Tribe welcomes settlement, mulls future uranium mining

By Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 19, 2013

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As the Navajo Nation celebrates the news of at least $1 billion from a lawsuit settlement that will help clean up past uranium mining and milling sites in Cove, Ariz., and Shiprock, the Resources and Development Committee is considering a piece of legislation that could grant a uranium company rights-of-way to conduct its in-situ uranium recovery demonstration project.

Last week, according to a Dec. 16 press release issued by President Ben Shelly's office, the tribe prevailed in its claim against Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Kerr-McGee Corporation. On Dec. 12, Judge Allan L. Gropper of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, found the defendants - Anardarko and Kerr-McGee - liable for damages to the plaintiffs for hindering and delaying certain creditors, including the Navajo Nation. Gropper found that when Kerr-McGee "transferred out and then spun off" oil and gas assets, it left spinoff companies "insolvent and undercapitalized."

"Any funds resulting from this lawsuit are welcomed and long overdue," Shelly said, adding, "The Shelly-Jim Administration has made mine cleanup a priority."

Gropper set the damages between $5.1 and $14.1 billion, which is still in the process of being determined after a briefing among the different parties in the suit.

The tribe was one of a number of plaintiffs in the case that includes the U.S. government, 22 states, four environmental response trusts and a trust for the benefit of certain tort plaintiffs.

According to Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, who announced on Dec. 13 that the tribe had prevailed in the suit, the distribution formula of the money is complicated.

"While we recognize the uncertainties of the appeal process and the long road that may be ahead of us, this is still a day of celebration for the Navajo Nation," Tsosie said.

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