A State of Disenchantment

Anyone who has visited New Mexico and has seen how the setting sun caresses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with a reddish cloak will instantly realize why this beautiful corner of the planet is called the Land of Enchantment.

But as we end this Hispanic Heritage Month, this unique state of unique Hispanic tradition is also no stranger to disenchantment in the form of Sen. John McCain's energy plans for New Mexico, which threaten to leave behind a disastrous toxic legacy.

Sen. McCain proposes to address our oil addiction (let's call it cigarettes) by switching to nuclear energy (let's call it crack). In a recent interview with CNN, Sen. McCain declared that the solution to our energy crisis, in part, hinges on building 45 new nuclear plants throughout the country. This would almost double the number of nuclear plants in the U.S. and generate some 2,000 tons of high-grade nuclear waste every year.

New Mexico already bears a disproportionate nuclear burden without the help of Sen. McCain. In the Waste Isolation Plant near Carlsbad sit hundreds of thousands of barrels full of nuclear sludge that were shipped from many parts of the country. Add to this the nuclear waste from the Trinity atomic site in Alamogordo and the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

And New Mexicans pay a high price for this nuclear burden. In 2007, the levels of nickel, a dangerous heavy metal, found in Albuquerque's underground water were 200 percent higher than allowed by state standards.

The saddest part of this drama is that there already exist powerful options to this "crack" called nuclear power on demand. Because of its extraordinary number of sun hours per year and its predominant winds, New Mexico could be turned into an El Dorado of clean, alternative, renewable energy.

And judging by the wind mills Sen. McCain has often advocated for, anyone would believe he has seen the light. But when we take a close look at his legislative record, we realize those windmills are as fake as those Don Quixote tilted against in the masterpiece of Hispanic literature.

Sen. John McCain has voted eight times against the Renewable Electricity Standard and against funding clean energy programs. He has also refused to fund programs to foster solar and win energy. Furthermore, he insists on preserving $13 billion in government giveaways to the oil industry and plans to give them an additional $3.8 billion in tax cuts.

As a result, oil companies such as ExxonMobil and Chevron are swimming in a sea of profits, whereas New Mexicans get the short end of the stick.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Visit www.sierraclub.org/ecocentro.