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D.C. needs to revitalize, preserve our mining towns

Our domestic uranium mining industry is under attack. The Jan. 8 announcement that the Mt. Taylor Uranium Mine near Grants plans to close is a sad sign of the times.

Uranium is one of America’s greatest assets. This critical mineral fuels the nuclear power plants that provide about 20 percent of our electricity and 55 percent of our clean, carbon-free electricity. Uranium is also vital to our national security, fueling the nuclear Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines and providing for other defense needs.

The closure of the Mt. Taylor mine is further proof the U.S. uranium mining and nuclear fuel production industries are rapidly disappearing. Mt. Taylor is one of the largest and richest uranium mines in the United States. Now, it may be gone forever.

The New Mexico Mining Association (NMMA) supports President Trump’s goal of putting “America First,” but unless the administration takes action – very soon – to help restore this critical industry, more valuable infrastructure is likely to disappear in 2020 and beyond. As recently as the 1980s, the United States produced nearly 100% of our uranium requirements. In 2019, U.S. uranium miners produced less than 1% of our domestic requirement. To make matters worse, increasing levels of uranium are being imported from unfriendly nations like Russia, China and their allies. These facts should concern all Americans.

President Trump has said he recognizes the threat we face if the uranium mining and nuclear fuel industries disappear, and he has emphasized the need for the United States to produce our own energy and critical minerals. Yet, so far, the Trump administration has not taken the critical action necessary to support our domestic uranium industry.

More than 340,000,000 pounds of uranium came from New Mexico from 1970-1995, in the 1980s, uranium mining companies in New Mexico employed over 15,000 well-paid workers and annually contributed about $60,000,000 in tax revenues to the state. The New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources estimates more than 400,000,000 pounds of uranium reserves remain in the state. Today, no uranium is produced in New Mexico. In 2019, there was only a handful of workers employed in the industry in New Mexico and, essentially, there was zero revenue to the state.

Grants was once characterized as the Uranium Capital of the World. The city thrived on a uranium mining industry that employed thousands of people in meaningful careers with significant salaries and benefits. The city served as a regional economic hub that provided first-rate medical services and educational opportunities for the Hispanic and Native Americans who comprise the majority of the regional population. As the domestic uranium mining industry withered, Grants slid into hard times. Crime and unemployment rates soared, while the tax base shriveled, municipal infrastructure crumbled and government services suffered.

Renewed mining in the Grants area could reverse this decline and transform the city by rejuvenating the economy, not only for those working in this important industry, but all the merchants needed to support mining. Unless President Trump takes action on this issue soon, this same economic gut punch will land in small communities in other parts of New Mexico.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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