Meeting on proposed URI In-Situ Uranium Mining Demonstration Project, May 28, 2014, at Church Rock, N.M.

URI President/Chief Executive Officer Christopher M. Jones and URI Vice President for Health , Safety, Environment & Public Affairs Mark S. Pelizza chat outside the Navajo Council chamber after the Resources & Development Committee removed proposed legislation to dissolve RDC subcommittee that's negotiating with URI on May 27, 2014. Photo by Marley Shebala.

URI President/Chief Executive Officer Christopher M. Jones and URI Vice President for Health , Safety, Environment & Public Affairs Mark S. Pelizza chat outside the Navajo Council chamber after the Resources & Development Committee removed proposed legislation to dissolve RDC subcommittee that’s negotiating with URI on May 27, 2014. Photo by Marley Shebala.

Proposed legislation for the Navajo Council’s Resources and Development Committee to rescind RDC action that acknowledged a right-of-way and surface use by Uranium Resources Inc. of its Church Rock, N.M., properties and the establishment of a RDC Subcommittee to negotiate with URI for an In-Situ Uranium Mining Demonstration Project near Church Rock was removed from the RDC’s agenda today, May 27, 2014, by a RDC vote of 4 in favor, 0 opposed.

According to the sponsor of Legislation 0104-14, RDC member Delegate George Apachito, the removal of his legislation from today’s RDC agenda was at the request of RDC Subcommittee Chairperson Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who informed Apachito that the Subcommittee was about to close an offer by URI to return 42,000 acres of land as part of a proposed agreement for URI to have its In-Situ Uranium Mining Demonstration Project.

RDC Subcommittee Chairperson Leonard Tsosie said he asked for the removal of 0104-14 because the Subcommittee had promised to hear from the Eastern Navajo Dine’ Against Uranium Mining and a meeting had finally been scheduled for tomorrow, May 28, 2014, at 10 a.m. at the Church Rock, N.M., chapter with ENDAM.

Tsosie confirmed that the Subcommittee was about to close a deal with URI that involved the 42,000 acres of URI land returning to the Navajo Nation, which Tsosie said would be in the Subcommittee’s written report to RDC.

He added that the proposed deal with URI would definitely go to the Naabik’iyati Committee and then to the full Navajo Council for its final approval or disapproval.

Navajo Department of Justice attorney David Taylor stated in an email, “I was advised just (this) morning that HRI provided Delegate Tsosie with a written proposal. The Department of Justice has not yet seen this proposal but I suspect it will be discussed at tomorrow’s meeting. Please pass this information along to everyone who you believe should have notice of this meeting. The subject matter of this meeting involves future uranium mining in the Church Rock Chapter.

The Navajo Justice Department became involved with the RDC Subcommittee activities because of an agreement between NDOJ and URI for URI to clean up its former uranium mining in the Church Rock area before any talks begin about future uranium mining near Church Rock.

The tribal justice department also advised the RDC that its legislation to create the Subcommittee violated two Navajo laws: the ban on uranium mining and milling and the transportation of radioactive material across Navajo land.

During an April 30, 2014, meeting of the Subcommittee, URI finally agreed to make its “HRI Site Characterization Report” public.

And earlier this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on the uranium contamination of the Navajo Reservation.

According to a May 5, 2014, press release from
U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, the GAO examined the results of the federal government’s first five-year plan to clean up uranium contamination on the Navajo Reservation and found that the federal agencies met or exceeded most of the targets, making progress on assessing contaminated mines, rebuilding contaminated structures, providing safe water supplies, and cleaning up some high-priority sites.

GAO also found that federal agencies have not identified the full scope of the remaining cleanup work, which is extensive and will require significant resources over many years.

Here is the May 5, 2014, press release from Rep. Waxman: WASHINGTON, DC— Today leading House and Senate Democrats released a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the status of efforts to clean up uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation. The report had been requested by Reps. Henry A. Waxman, Peter DeFazio, Frank Pallone, Jr., Colleen Hanabusa, Raul M. Grijalva, Ben Ray Lujan, and Sens. Martin Heinrich and Edward J. Markey.

“The pervasive uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation is an American tragedy,” said Waxman. “GAO’s report confirms that federal agencies have made progress in addressing this shameful legacy but that a huge amount of work remains to be done. The federal government has a moral obligation to sustain its commitment to right this wrong.”

“While the government has finally taken a first step toward addressing uranium contamination on Navajo lands, the GAO’s report shows that there is a lot more we must do. Federal agencies need to move as quickly as possible to clean up abandoned mines and ensure safe drinking water for the Navajo people. And they must engage and work cooperatively with Navajo communities. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to support these efforts,” said Rep. DeFazio, Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“It is unacceptable that the Navajo people have been living with the enduring environmental and health impacts of uranium contamination for decades,” said Rep. Pallone, senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee. “While GAO’s report shows that federal agencies have made progress in recent years, there is a still a great deal that must be done. We have a responsibility to correct this deplorable chapter in our history, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that cleanup of the Navajo Nation remains a priority.”

“The Navajo and Hopi people have borne much of the burden of our nation’s need for uranium and are still dealing with the negative effects of abandoned mines,” said Rep. Hanabusa. “These communities suffer from elevated cancer risks and contaminated drinking water as a direct result of uranium production. Now that we have this report, we must take seriously its recommendations and continue to take the appropriate steps.”

“Uranium has poisoned the lives of too many communities for too long, and the only way to stop it is to start taking removal and cleanup seriously,” said Rep. Grijalva. “Congress has to stop sweeping this under the rug. We know we need better funding, better outreach and more local-federal coordination. I’m glad the Government Accountability Office has shown us a way forward, and I’m glad to hear the EPA is willing to follow its important recommendations. Now we need congressional Republicans to put public health and environmental quality on their list of things worth working on.”

“I have had the opportunity to visit with many individuals who are still reeling from the legacy of uranium mining, a legacy whose scars remain visible in communities across the Navajo Nation,” said Rep. Luján. “Too many lives have been lost and too many families and resources have impacted—we cannot afford another year of uncompleted work. This report should add to the urgency for the federal government and Congress to take a proactive stance regarding clean up. We must also not forget about those whose health and homeland was impacted by uranium mining and the need to compensate workers and their families who became sick from radiation exposure.”

“Throughout history, New Mexico has made major contributions to our country’s national security and energy needs, including communities across the state that were central to the mining and processing of uranium. But too often we’ve neglected our duty to these communities to clean up the mess that was left behind,” said Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “Navajo families are still living with the dire consequences of our last era of uranium mining. Though the GAO report confirms the cleanup effort is progressing, these mining sites continue to be environmental and public health risks. As we move forward, I will keep working to ensure our tribal communities receive the resources they need to complete the job and keep their families safe.”

In October 2007, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to examine the adverse health and environmental impacts affecting the Navajo people of decades of uranium mining and milling around the reservation. Following that hearing, at the Committee’s request, several federal agencies developed and implemented a five-year plan to begin addressing the uranium contamination. The agencies, in cooperation with the Navajo Nation, are currently developing a new five-year plan to continue the environmental remediation and public health efforts.

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