The great debate
RDC tables legislation to reaffirm tribal uranium ban
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
WINDOW ROCK, October 4, 2012
(Special to the Times – Donovan Quintero)
T he Resources and Development Committee decided to table legislation that would have reaffirmed the tribe's prohibition of any uranium mining on tribal lands.
The committee made its decision on Tuesday after hearing a report by Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, which opposes the proposed in situ recovery process uranium mining at Church Rock and Crownpoint, N.M.
The process of in situ recovery, or ISR, requires injecting solvents into uranium-rich rock layer, then pumping out the dissolved uranium.
Committee members Leonard Tsosie (Baca-Prewitt/Casamero Lake/Counselor/Littlewater/Ojo Encino/ Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) and Leonard Pete (Chinle) were the motioning parties to table the legislation co-sponsored by Council delegates Danny Simpson and Edmund Yazzie.
"We need to have good discussion because were going to have a dog and cat fight," Tsosie said, explaining the need for a work session with Uranium Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Hydro Resources Inc., planning in situ recover mining at Church Rock and Crownpoint, the Eastern Navajo Allotees Association, a group of individual Navajos who support uranium development on their allotments, and ENDAUM.
Vice-chair Roscoe Smith, who was serving as committee pro tem because committee chair Katherine Benally was absent, said a work session will be scheduled within 30 days.
Tsosie, who prefers to regulate uranium mining, rather than a complete ban on Navajo land, said a work session is vital to hear from the stakeholders to make an informed decision on whether to reaffirm the tribe's stance of the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005.
DNRPA is a moratorium that bans uranium mining on the Navajo Nation until the legacy waste of past conventional uranium mining and milling from the Cold War Era is cleaned up, according to Navajo Department of Justice attorney Dave Taylor.
To date, three of the 520 uranium mines and mills on the reservation recently begun the clean-up process.
In her report to the RDC, ENDAUM spokesperson Leona Morgan informed the committee that ENDAUM's mission is to ensure that the water, air, land and community health are protected in areas impacted by uranium activities.
"This type of mining, it will contaminate the aquifer, it's necessary to contaminate the water to extract the uranium," she said about the Westwater Canyon Aquifer that serves as a groundwater drinking source for Crownpoint.
Morgan told the committee that over 10 chapters in the Grants Mineral Belt region, including Crownpoint and Church Rock, have passed resolutions opposing URI's uranium project, which would extract 5 million tons of uranium ore.
Morgan also brought to light the unreliability of the uranium market.
She said, according to Indexmundi.com and Urre.client.shareholder.com, URI's stock and uranium U308 Market is on decline.
"It's something that is not worth the risk," Morgan said, adding that current market value for uranium is $46.5 per pound.
Morgan also highlighted current litigation ENDAUM has with the New Mexico Environment Department and a complaint against the U.S. in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for allowing contamination to a source of drinking water, a violation of human rights.
The decision by the committee to table Simpson and Yazzie's legislation was encouraging to Mark Pelizza, senior vice president for URI, and Benjamin House, president of the Eastern Navajo Allottees Association.
"I was very pleased the committee recognized the need for thorough discussion among all the different stakeholders," Pelizza said. "The ENDUM group has concerns. What I heard today, some statements were very, very inaccurate and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to correct and clarify them."
Pelizza said the position of URI is that it requires mining to be done safely to the environment and the public's health.
"It will be done safely, or not at all," he said. "That is our company's position."
House, who spoke on behalf of the allottees who would sell uranium on their allotments to URI, was also pleased with the committee's decision.
"What we heard today were pretty satisfied with trying bring the groups together and sit across the table to hash out the issue and move ahead on some progress," House said.
House said nine allotments, which are located on Unit 1, would be mined for the project.
Last week when URI meet with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at its Crownpoint project site for environmental audit for its NRC license renewal application to operate, about 40 youth from the surrounding communities that would be directly impacted by the uranium project protested the meeting.
Instead of providing public testimony at the three-day meeting between URI and NRC, the youth, along with members from ENDAUM, Concerned Citizens of Tiistosi and the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, stood at the four-way intersection in Crownpoint and marched to the gates of the URI processing site to bring awareness to passersby.
"We decided our time is more effective out here with the young people," Morgan said on Sept. 27. "It's not our generation that 's going to be impacted, if it starts. It's these youth. That is our message."
One of those youth protesting the meeting was Adrienne Long, 10, of Standing Rock, N.M.
Long, who held the poster "Clean water 4 ur daughter" for passersby to see, said she is against URI's project.
Asked what she knows about URI, Long responded, saying, "They're trying to mine in Crownpoint. It can kill you from radiation and gives you cancer from the radiation. It pollutes the earth."
Other poster messages included "Protect our water!" "Jobs aren't worth lives, stop HRI," and HRI standing for "Help Radiate Indians."
"Protests like this are always good to have, it empowers the community," said Nadine Padilla of MACE. "It reminds the community they have a voice and puts pressure on elected officials and decision-makers about our environment."
Padilla added, "The four proposed mines, the two in Crownpoint and the two in Church Rock, it would irreversibly and purposefully contaminate the sole source of drinking water for over 15,000 Navajo community members that live in this area. It's a crucial issue that people need to pay attention to and need to become active in."