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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — New Mexico is offering to help the Navajo Nation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figure out how to best use $1 billion for cleaning up abandoned uranium mines throughout the region.
The offer was made public Wednesday as the state scrambles for a seat at the table of what is expected to be a massive undertaking.
Right now, New Mexico now has no say in how the funds are spent as the result of a 2009 decision by former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration and a bankruptcy expert in Attorney General Gary King’s office. At the time, the officials agreed it would not be in the state’s best interest to seek environmental-cleanup funds from a company that had filed for bankruptcy.
The federal government ended up reaching a $5.15 billion settlement with Anadarko Petroleum Corp. in December. The deal resolved a legal battle over Tronox Inc., a spin-off of Kerr-McGee that Anadarko had acquired in 2006. Kerr-McGee had operated dozens of uranium mines in the area, including 21 in New Mexico.
Some of the settlement funds have been earmarked for cleaning up contaminated sites in the Navajo area, including sites near Ambrosia Lake just east of the reservation.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration said Wednesday the state lucked out in that the definition of the sites to be cleaned up is broad enough to include those in northwestern New Mexico.
“The state of New Mexico should not have declined to participate in this lawsuit back in 2009,” Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said in a statement. “That was a major mistake that needs to be addressed for the sake of protecting our environment.”