Press Release For More Information:
Thursday Nov. 15, 2007 Mitchell Capitan, 505-786-5209
Linda Evers, 505-287-2304
Candace Head-Dylla, 505-401-4349
Chris Shuey, 505-262-1862
Robert Tohe, 928-774-6103
Grass-roots and nongovernmental organizations
seek justice for uranium impacts in meetings with members of Congress
WASHINGTON, DC — Representatives of grass-roots groups and nongovernmental organizations from New Mexico and Arizona told members of Congress last week that they want a federal moratorium on new uranium development in the region until the widespread environmental and public health damages from past mining and milling are resolved and workers and communities are fully compensated.
The organizations were in Washington, D.C. to participate in the Navajo Uranium Roundtable sponsored by Rep. Tom Udall of New Mexico, and co-hosted by Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah, Rep. Rick Renzi of Arizona, and Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley, Jr.
The groups, which represented communities in the Eastern Navajo Agency, Acoma and Laguna pueblos, and the Milan and Grants area, supported the Navajo Nation’s requests for funding to clean up hundreds of abandoned mines in Navajo communities, fully compensate uranium workers, conduct health studies in uranium-impacted communities, and honor and respect the Navajo Nation’s 2005 law banning uranium mining and processing in Navajo Country.
Speakers for the grassroots groups joined President Shirley, other Navajo Nation officials, and Laguna Pueblo Governor John E. Antonio, in calling for a federal moratorium on new uranium mining.
Mitchell Capitan, founder of Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), based in Crownpoint, said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is “tilted toward industry” and cannot be trusted to properly regulate uranium in situ leach (ISL) mines and new uranium mills. He charged that the NRC did not give fair consideration to ENDAUM’s technical and legal arguments challenging NRC’s 1998 licensing of Hydro Resources, Inc.’s (HRI) proposed ISL mines in Churchrock and Crownpoint. To illustrate his point, Capitan provided copies of a photo from the NRC’s web site showing agency officials smiling and shaking hands with executives of a Wyoming uranium company, which had just submitted an application for a new ISL mine — long before the proposed facility is subjected to NRC staff review and approved by the Commission.
Larry J. King, an ENDAUM member and Churchrock Chapter resident, said his community recommends a federal uranium mine clean-up program that would address legacy sites throughout the West. He also called for Congress to force NRC to return to its mission to protect public health and safety. He cited an NRC ruling in 2006 that classified high levels of radiation from mining wastes at a proposed ISL site across the highway from his home as “background” radiation.
Robert Tohe, environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club in Flagstaff, Ariz., said Congress should give federal land management agencies the authority to deny exploration and mining permits on Native American sacred sites and in sacred places. He noted that several mining companies are exploring for uranium on and around Mt. Taylor, one of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo people and a sacred place for Acoma and Laguna pueblos.
Long-time Diné uranium worker advocate Phil Harrison, Jr., who is now a delegate to the Navajo Nation Council, and attorney Keith Killian of Grand Junction, Colorado, called on Congress to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to address disparities in compensation awards between Native Americans and non-Indian uranium workers and downwinders. They said the range of compensable diseases should be expanded and attention given to the lack of compensation for dependents of former workers and people who lived, and still live, in mining-impacted communities.
Harrison, Paguate resident Alvino Waconda, and Milan residents Linda Evers and Liz Lucero, all of whom are former uranium workers, supported amending RECA to include people who worked in the uranium industry after 1971. Evers said her group has collected nearly 1,500 surveys of post-1971 uranium workers, and that the vast majority of workers are reporting a wide range of cancers, respiratory diseases and kidney disease. Evers said she expects to report the first results by the end of the year.
Milan residents Candace Head-Dylla, Milton Head and Art Gebeau, representing the Bluewater Valley Downstream Alliance (BVDA), handed out information packets showing how groundwater contamination around the Homestake Uranium Mill north of Milan has spread to three aquifers covering several miles of land since first detected in 1961. They said the plumes contain high levels of uranium and other toxic substances and are inching toward Milan’s municipal water wells, yet no groundwater monitoring is being conducted ahead of the contamination plume. Dozens of private wells in communities near the mill have been shut down, but until very recently some residents were unknowingly still drinking tainted water from private wells, the BVDA members said. They recommended that Congress should amend federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act, to ensure that that uranium mine and mill wastes and associated discharges are regulated as toxic pollutants.
The grass-roots people were assisted by staffs of Southwest Research and Information Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Earthworks, and The Raben Group. A list of major policy objectives advocated by the groups follows.
Dr. Johnnye Lewis, a University of New Mexico toxicologist who was invited by the Navajo Nation and Udall staffs to provide scientific guidance, spoke to the need for a comprehensive health study, noting that the lack of health data is often misconstrued as a lack of effect. Dr. Lewis, who is the principal investigator for the first community-based health and exposure study in Navajo communities, emphasized the need for health studies to be conducted by independent investigators to ensure the validity and scientific integrity of results.
GRASS-ROOTS AND NONGOVERENMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS’
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FEDERAL RESPONSES TO THE URANIUM MINING LEGACY AND PROPOSED NEW URANIUM DEVELOPMENT ON THE NAVAJO NATION AND THROUGHOUT THE FOUR CORNERS AREA
1. Seek legislation to impose a federal moratorium on new uranium development until environmental pollution from previous mining and milling is cleaned up, workers are appropriately compensated, and community health studies conducted.
2. Amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to, among other things, include certain New Mexico counties in the areas exposed to fallout from nuclear weapons testing, expand the universe of compensable diseases for uranium workers, and extend eligibility for compensation to workers who worked after 1971. Congress should also investigate compensation strategies for dependents of former uranium workers and for residents of communities impacted by uranium development.
3. Respect and protect the Navajo Nation’s sovereign right to enact the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act (DNRPA) of 2005, which prohibits uranium mining and processing by any means anywhere in Navajo Country.
4. Ensure full funding for health studies among residents of communities impacted by uranium mining and milling, and restore cuts in existing studies.
5. Require the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to drop work on the proposed Generic Environmental Impact Statement for uranium in situ leach mining and to return to full and fair implementation of its statutory authority to protect public health and safety.
6. Amend the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Atomic Energy Act to make clear and certain that uranium mill and mine wastes are defined as “pollutants” and are subject to the same level of regulatory control and scrutiny as all other pollutants. Uranium mine and mill waste should not be exempt from any federal public health or environmental statute.
7. Enact a comprehensive federal abandoned uranium mine clean-up program, including funds for cleanup of abandoned mines on the Navajo Nation, Laguna Pueblo and throughout the Four Corners Area. Ensure that financially viable companies are held responsible for cleaning, or paying for cleanup, of the mining and milling sites they abandoned.
8. Reaffirm the principal of religious freedom by authorizing federal land management agencies to deny exploration, mining and milling permits on sacred sites or in sacred places, including and especially Mt. Taylor in northwestern New Mexico.
La Nueva Raza News