Mining in Santa Fe National Forest & Spent Uranium in Carlsbad: Who Has “Standing” to Oppose Them?

Two current cases pending in NM bring to question: Who has standing in determining the use of resources, land and water in our state and what criteria is “valid” in opposing efforts that compromise the integrity of a community, forest or state?  The question fits well within the context of the last two blogs about our current political and economic systems and how we decide anything.

At the bottom of today’s post is information about today’s Retake Our Democracy radio show airing at 8:30am on KSFR 101.1 FM and about an important and most timely panel discussion being held on Wednesday evening and focused the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) and Holtec’s proposed construction of a nuclear waste facility that would store far more volatile spent nuclear fuel rods. So be sure to check that out.

Who Decides? How?  And Where Do We Fit In? NM Facing Decisions About Fuel Rod Storage and Cobalt Mining in the Santa Fe National Forest

In the last week, we have been exploring how decisions get made in America, whether they be in relation to organizing and regulating economic activity that impacts a community, a state or a planet, whether it relates to who has standing to decide what a woman does with her own body, or who has standing to decide about how to treat our forest and who has standing to decide what the hell to do with spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors throughout the country.  On Thursday, we explored how we are in the process of deciding about a system of healthcare for NM and for the nation. To review Wednesday’s post about our economic and political systems, click here. To review our Thursday post on how Democratic leadership is trying to limit and distort the discussion of how our healthcare system is reformed, click here.

When the Wednesday and Thursdays blog were published I had viewed Wednesday’s blog as being a critique of our economic and political systems and Thursday’s a critique of how our Democratic leadership is trying to control the argument and the information being considered in the debate about legislation related to our healthcare system.  But I hadn’t really seen the two posts as an exploration of how we, as a society and nation make decisions.  But when I began to prepare this blog it hit me that in relation to two pressing environmental decisions facing NM, it was unclear who has standing to make those decisions.   As I thought about this more, I realized that “how we decide” was at the heart of both posts on Wednesday and Thursday.  Who has standing when an oil industry decides its profit has standing and harm caused by their operations does not. Who has standing to make healthcare decisions for a woman?  Who has standing to determine the public discourse around our health system?   How can some industries or entities find themselves with the power to decide?  And where do we, as members of a community, have standing?  And ultimately, who has standing to represent the interests of a forest?

And so, today we raise the issue of standing in relation to a proposed Holtec operated nuclear waste storage facility in southern NM and who has standing to decide about a potential mining operation in the Santa Fe National Forest. After you are done, I’d encourage you to go back to the two posts published Wednesday and Thursday and as you do, reflect on how decisions were made in relation to the policies, political actions, and business practices described. As I reflect back, it occurs to me that often “decisions were made,” without there being an honest understanding of what was at stake and that most often those making the decisions did their best to make sure that no one understood the stakes involved. And so, today, we examine two decisions to be made here  in NM: Do we mine cobalt in the Santa Fe National Forest?  Do we store spent nuclear fuel rods in southern NM?  Who decides?  Who has standing?

WIPP Is Relatively Benign Next to What Holtec Has In Mind

Your will recall that nuclear technology company Holtec International applied for an application in 2017 through the NRC to license construction of a consolidated interim storage (CIS) facility to hold nuclear waste temporarily as a permanent geological repository is devised.One of our readers just happens to know a little something about storing nuclear waste, having worked on the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) during its formative years. He notes that while the WIPP’s storage of waste is “child’s play” that what is being proposed by Holtec is utterly insane.

I heavily researched all types of nuclear waste storage for the major WIPP contractor.  The complexity of safely storing TRU waste in WIPP, except for the massive longevity of toxic TRUs, is child’s play compared to storing beta and gamma nuclear waste ANYWHERE, let alone in a shallow pit of dry Permian soil on the windswept high plains of our southeastern border.

Chernobyl was and is beta and gamma radiation. Spent fuel rods come from nuclear reactors, not unlike Chernobyl. To store these rods now takes incredible engineering, on site near their reactors, and outrageously massive amounts of water to keep them cool enough to avoid calamity. I looked at the map. No big rivers anywhere close to Hobbs. These rods would have to be sooooooooo spent of nuclear radiation as to be virtually innocuous to be dry stored in shallow burial, of any kind. If they are that spent, they can and should stay right where they are, next to the soon-to-be decommissioned reactor they came from.

We need massive amounts of further information about the types of rods, their age, their current level of radioactivity, their physical integrity, their proposed containment and transportation engineering, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Mick Nickel lays out the issues that need to be considered, but in reading about the status of Holtec’s application to construct this monstrosity, I read a Carlsbad local newspaper discussion of one of the hearings and found that the question of “standing” arose. “The comments came during a hearing held by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Atomic Safety and Licensing Board in Albuquerque. The purpose of the hearing was for board members to hear arguments from those opposing the project and determine which arguments could be admitted during future hearings and what organizations would be granted standing during the proceedings.” So this board apparently has authority to determine who has “standing” in the decision making process about Holtec’s plan. Interestingly, one advocacy group was determined to have standing because many of its members live within a mile or two of the proposed facilities. This is a very thorny issue as the spent rods reside in nuclear reactors throughout the country. Now that these aging plants approach decomissioning, the communities that have housed them want the rods removed.  But how will this decision be made? Who will have standing?  As, Mick Nickel points out the selection of the desert of southern NM appears utterly insane, as safe storage would require enormous amounts of water. He also points out that moving the waste across the country would require transit over public, private, tribal lands, all of whom would be at risk and would appear to have standing in the matter.

Or do we?  When the powers that be make a plan, do any of us truly have standing or are we offered hearings to make our case on decisions that have been long made by others? At the bottom of this post is information about a panel discussion on WIPP and Holtec’s plans with Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richards among the panelists. I think it will be interesting to attend listening for who makes these decisions.  Who has standing? Who doesn’t?  And who made the rules affording standing to some and denying it to others?

Which brings us to the Santa Fe National Forest and a proposal to introduce cobalt mining in the forest.

Cobalt Mining Operation Coming to the Santa Fe National Forest

Below is a press release from the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF). It outlines plans from Comexico LLC, a US subsidiary company of New World Cobalt, to establish a cobalt extraction operation in the SFNF. While the permit application has just begun and there appears to be environmental protection regulations with which Comexico, LLC must comply, what astonished me was the last sentence of the announcement:  the SFNF, and apparently no one, has the authority to prevent exploration and development of mineral resources. New Mexico has a fifty year old law that would make it a felony for a woman to make her own healthcare decisions. It appears that we also have an 1872 mining act that makes is impossible to prevent mining and extraction on public land.  See announcement below.

This is an interesting footnote to the posts of the last couple of days where the interests of business and industry entirely trump the interests of consumers and the public in general. And there is a curious connection between the hubris of those who feel they can make decisions about women’s health decisions and their bodies and the hubris involved in creating legislation that prevents a community from making decisions about what to do with its forest.

I am no expert in the laws and regulations relating to mining of resources and hope that between our emerging Climate Action Team and the Research Team, we can have someone do a deeper dive into laws that regulate–or it would appear–fail to regulate mining operations. If you are interested in exploring the proposed cobalt mining operations in the SFNF please write to me at Below is the press release from the SFNF. We will track this plan and do our best to keep you informed about how and when you can ask questions or raise concerns.

The Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) today announced that it has received a Plan of Operations from Comexico LLC, the American subsidiary of New World Cobalt, to conduct mineral exploration on previously identified deposits on the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District. Comexico also submitted an exploration permit application to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD).

Comexico’s application proposes core drilling in the vicinity of Jones Hill near Terrero, NM, to identify base and precious metal deposits for mining. In April, Comexico submitted two notices of intent (NOIs) to the SFNF requesting access to Forest Service roads that are closed to the public to stake the mining claim, collect surface samples and begin geophysical testing.

The Comexico operation is authorized under the General Mining Act of 1872, as amended, and Forest Service regulations on locatable minerals. Since the activities requested in the NOIs are non-surface disturbing, they do not require analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The core drilling activities in the Plan of Operations require NEPA analysis to determine the environmental impact on resources. The level of NEPA analysis will depend on the scope of Comexico operations and the degree of disturbance to vegetation, soil, water, air or wildlife. According to Comexico’s public notice, the company expects the drilling operation to impact an estimated 2.2 acres.

The SFNF has provided Comexico with a list of measures to protect plants and wildlife, including the endangered Holy Ghost ipomopsis and at-risk species like the Mexican spotted owl, northern goshawk and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. According to its application to NM ENMRD, Comexico has hired a third party contractor to conduct sensitive/critical species surveys, general biology surveys, hydro-geologic surveys, and cultural surveys to identify resources that may need protective measures.

While the SFNF can require Comexico to implement measures to protect resources, under the 1872 mining act the SFNF does not have the authority to prohibit the exploration and development of mineral resources.

Again, it is interesting to consider the issue of standing and how we decide in the context of the last two posts.  So, I provide links to both here. To review Wednesday’s post about our economic and political systems, click here. To review our Thursday post on how Democratic leadership is trying to limit and distort the discussion of how our healthcare system is reformed, click here

The entire week’s discussion has circled around the reality that some really consequential decisions are being made and we may well not have standing in any of it. Kind makes the name of our organization appear relevant: Retake Our Democracy.  Turn to KSFR 101.1 FM right now for more on these issues from Retake Our Democracy.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

Coming Events & Opportunities

Retake Our Democracy on KSFR 101.1 FM, Saturday, June 15,   8:30 am – 9 am.  I am doing a solo show this Saturday focused on the range of forces and threats facing our Nation, state and community and revolving around some of the issues raised in today’s post.  Last week I interviewed Jen Gose who is challenging the House Minority Leader James Townsend in District 54, home of the WIPP, Carlsbad Caverns and the planned Holtec nuclear storage facility.  She was a great interview, with good knowledge on the issues challenging southern NM.  Last week,  I interviewed Teresa Leger de Fernandez, candidate for US House District III and the week prior I interviewed Speaker Brian Egolf.  To listen to all of these shows via podcast, go to go to the programs menu, scroll to podcasts and then click on Retake Our Democracy. All 2 1/2 years of shows are there in chronological order. Binge on.

Wednesday, June 19, 6:00 – 7:30 pm, Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM.  Panel Discussion on The WIPP and Holtec’s Proposal to Build Another Nuclear Storage Facility in NM.   Retake is promoting this for two reasons. First, the topic and panelists warrant it. But secondly, this kind of forum is precisely the kind of issue-focused event that we had been encouraging the local Democratic Party to organize and promote. Kudos to the Democratic Party of Santa Fe for hosting this important discussion. This forum explores issues with two New Mexico nuclear storage facilities—WIPP, opened in 1999 to store low-to-mid level military waste, and a proposed facility to be built by Holtec International to handle high-level waste from 98 nuclear power plants across the nation.  Holtec’s proposal and possible changes at WIPP raise serious concerns to be discussed by our distinguished panelists:
  • NM Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia RichardGovern
  • State Representative Christine Chandler (District 43), representing Los Alamos; formerly, attorney with Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Don Hancock, Director, Nuclear Waste Program at Southwest Research and Information Center
  • Sally Rodgers, Environment Policy Advisor for former NM governors; Conservation Voters NM founder
  • Panel Moderator: Cheryl Rofer, former LANL chemist

Chainbreaker Collective Assembly.  Saturday June 22–NOT the 15th as reported earlier this week….NEXT SATURDAY, 8am-6pm at Santa Fe Art Institute 1600 St. Michael’s, Santa Fe.  As part of this critical, equitable community engagement, the people most affected by the decisions are given a voice in the process for determining how the mid-town project will be developed and what it will include as part of that development. Chainbreaker and allied partners will be discussing:  Affordability, Quality, Sustainability and Health, Accessibility, Fairness and Equity, Stability, Permanence, and Protection from Displacement, and Community Control. Please join us for a lively and fruitful day. Housing is a right, not a commodity. Have your voice counted in the decisions being made regarding Santa Fe’s greatest community asset in a People’s Plan for the Heart of Santa Fe.  As always, food will be provided. (Please let us know about your dietary restrictions, in the registration link.) Bilingual Program (Translation Equipment Provided)  In order to provide childcare please provide number of children in your care, their names and ages in the registration link.  Register by clicking here.







Categories: Climate Change, Agriculture, Land Use and Wildlife

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3 replies

  1. Pertaining to the mining: for starters 30 drill
    Pads are planned. The site is about 4 miles sw of Holy Ghost campground. Once roads go into an area it is a long, if ever with climate change, recovery. The newly named Santa Fe forest landscape resiliency project is planning to clear 50k+acres of forest near Santa Fe. 30 days is not enough time for public comment. We need 90 days. Please write James Melonas and city council. Boy are we sampling that democracy calls for participating.

  2. Comexico thinking that the drilling operation will impact only 2.2 acres is ridiculous. We know from fracking operations that land, animals, water and people will be disturbed for miles and miles as the trucks go back and forth from the drill site, as the water is contaminated, as the noise and lights carry throughout the forest, as the natural habitat is destroyed and displaces wildlife and the list goes on and on. And even IF a robust permit were granted with great written protections for the environment….who will really monitor and hold this operation accountable?

    • Lynn. So true. Profit and self-regulation do not mix, at all. One is anti-thecal to the other. Now, the federal civil service professionals are forced to carry out meaningless procedures dictated by political hacks installed in most key positions of middle and upper management by the two-party corporate cabal. Citizens monitoring their own govt. is now impossible, if it ever was possible.

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