Coal extracted from a mine in La Plata County could very well help President-elect Donald Trump build his “big, beautiful, powerful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In a Nov. 23 article, Enrique Escalante, chief executive officer of Grupo Cementos de Chihuahua (GCC), told Reuters that the Mexican cement company would lend its services to build the 2,000-mile wall on the U.S. southern border.
“We can’t be too choosy,” Escalante said. “We’re an important producer in that area and we have to respect our clients on both sides of the border. … For the business we’re in, Trump is a candidate that does favor the industry quite a bit.”
GCC, a multi-million dollar international cement manufacturer based in Chihuahua, Mexico, is the parent company of GCC Energy, which owns and operates the King II coal mine in Hesperus.
GCC Energy’s vice president Trent Peterson did not respond to requests for comments on this story, and Gina Nance, the company’s vice president of environment and energy, declined to comment.
However, the company has made it known that the nearly 1 million tons of coal extracted annually from King II, the only operating mine in La Plata County, largely feeds into the cement plants of GCC.
Peterson has said King II also supplies other cement manufacturers. The U.S. Energy Information Administration does not keep tabs on where coal mines send what they produce, said agency spokesman Jonathan Cogan.
Regardless, as news spread of Escalante’s comments, local advocates around Durango expressed concern that the region is connected to a company embracing a controversial and divisive issue: building a wall on the border to stop illegal immigration from Central and South America.
Trump in the past has been criticized for aggravating tensions surrounding immigration issues, claiming he will make Mexico pay for the wall and enact mass deportations as soon as he takes office in January.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said last year. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Cynthia Roebuck, executive director of SW CO Advocates, expressed concern that the local business community, namely the Durango Chamber of Commerce and the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, are aligning themselves with a company that does not reflect the values of the community they represent.
“I think it’s important we understand who we’re supporting as businesses in La Plata County,” she said. “Is this the kind of business that we want to support?”
The Chamber of Commerce and La Plata County Economic Development Alliance were vocal advocates of GCC Energy last year as the energy company pursued a county land use permit, which it received.
In a Feb. 26 Letter to the Editor to The Durango Herald entitled “Do not stand in King II Mine’s way,” the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, Jack Llewellyn, pointed to the 120 jobs that the mine provides, as well as the $400,000 in tax revenue it generates.
“It is no secret that the coal mining industry is facing a number of immense challenges, both economic and political,” Llewellyn wrote. “It therefore makes little sense for local governments to unnecessarily add to these challenges.”
Llewellyn did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The chamber is largely funded by memberships.
GCC Energy was a “Gold Sponsor” for the 10th annual Economic Summit in October, contributing $2,500 to the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance’s event.
Roger Zalneraitis, executive director of the La Plata County Economic Alliance, a taxpayer supported organization, said the GCC president’s comments were nothing more than a “classic case of making lemonade out of lemons.”
“In this country, people profit off the most immoral things every day,” Zalneraitis said. “And I don’t think what the company is talking about has anything to do with their political position on whether it’s good or bad to build a wall. They’re looking for opportunity, and this is what this company is doing.”
A 2015 census of La Plata County shows that almost 13 percent of the county’s population of nearly 55,000 residents is Hispanic, and that number has been steadily growing.
And during this past election, the county went 49.8 percent for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, as opposed to Trump’s 40.5 percent – a difference of about 2,830 votes, according to election results.
“We’re a blue county in a blue state,” Roebuck said. “We need to look at who we align ourselves with.”
Danny Quinlan, executive director of Compañeros, an organization that supports causes and activities involving immigrants, said there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty in the Hispanic community in the wake of Trump’s election.
He said rather than build a wall, the country needs “human solutions” to tackle issues surrounding immigration.
“We would really hope that local business leaders and political leaders would consider looking at a bigger picture solution and consider options that will help our community, help our families and help our local economy grow,” Quinlan said.
Pastor Ruben Balaguer, of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said the 15 or so participants in his Hispanic Bible study group, which consists of mostly Mexicans, fear their livelihood and families will be taken away.
“They came here to work, they came here for a better future,” Balaguer said. “There’s a concern, obviously. But we have faith, and whatever happens, we are ready.”