For decades, residents of Nucla, Colorado mined the coal that fueled the nearby power plant. But a lawsuit brought on by environmentalists will close the nuclear plant in 2020, and the mine will shut down as well. One in eight people in the town will lose their jobs. Nucla had a moment of fame in 2013, not for its declining economy, but for an ordinance in the wake of Sandy Hook which ran against a national call for restricted gun access: Every household in Nucla would be required to own a gun.
Lois Beckett traveled to Nucla for the Guardian and talked with residents there about the fight for their livelihood. But Nucla’s enemies can’t be run off their land with firearms; they’re in the liberal town next door.
Telluride, just an hour away, is Nucla’s polar opposite. The town, which hosts a film festival, is cosmopolitan and populated by the elite, a favored site for second or even third homes. Oprah Winfrey reportedly bought 60 acres of land there in 2014 and spent $14m on one of the town’s most lavish mansions (it has a wine cellar designed to look like a historic mine).
To make ends meet, Nucla residents clean Telluride’s rental condos and help construct its elaborate mansions, with their enormous chandeliers and granite toilet seats and computerized bidets. One Nucla resident recalled walking into a bathroom in Telluride and feeling startled as “the toilet opened by itself”.
The class tensions between the two towns are exacerbated by stereotypes. Telluride people think the small towners’ exposure to radiation means they “can’t think properly”, said Kyle Webb, a 28-year-old who had moved from Denver to Nucla, in part because of its gun ordinance.
Meanwhile, the avowed environmentalists are building giant mansions with heated driveways to melt the snow. Telluride is “so wasteful – and it’s kind of hypocritical”, said Aimee Tooker, Thompson’s niece and the the president of the West End Economic Development Corporation, which was founded to help build new economic models in the area.
“It’s the saddest thing. You know, we turn off our lights. And as long as we have a place to plug in our phone and our TV, we’re happy. Those people that are up there – they have rain sensors in their windows and sun sensors in their shades so that the shades will close automatically.
“They’re the most wasteful people, yet they tell us that, you know, we can’t have our uranium, we can’t have this and that down here.”