To: Members of the Government Oversight and Natural Resources Committees
Date: September 24, 2015
Subject: Comments on Navajo Hearing on 9-18-15
Dear Chairman Bishop and Members of the Government Oversight and Natural Resources Committees
Thank you for the attention you are giving to the Navajo Nation due to the recent Gold King Mine spill in Colorado that impacted the Nation's water. I appreciate your taking in testimony from the officials. However, I think this is an opportunity to put this current situation in the context of the overall situation on the Navajo lands. The Navajo Reservation is a National Disaster Area created by the U.S. Government through the funnel of Department of Interior.
I will submit information on the following issues:
The principal mining operations were completed in the 1970's. One has to question why the Government, who permitted the uranium mines and purchased the product, waited until 1994 to classify the mines as Superfund States. Even then, it was 2007 before they did anything.
Before uranium mining, in the 1950's, cancer rates in the Navajo population were so low that the people were thought to be immune. Research was done and C. G. Salsbury wrote an article titled “Cancer immunity in the Navajo,” published National Center for Biotechnology Information in 1956. A decade into the mining era, cancer rates had more than doubled. According to a report by the Navajo Epidemiology Center, by 2004, cancer had become the leading cause of illness and death for the Navajo. While it's true that the Navajos were grateful for the mining jobs, they saw little profit from the uranium. Their wages were minimum wages or less: hourly $0.81 to $1.00.
In 2007, a Los Angeles Times reporter won Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism for her four-part series "Blighted Homeland," [http://www.latimes.com/news/la-na-navajo19nov19-story.html] which revealed how the U.S. Government took uranium from Navajo land to build its nuclear arsenal during the Cold War and then abandoned the Navajo people. Her four-part series, published in November 2006, was the result of two years of reporting about how the mining of uranium left behind waste that sickened generations of Navajos on Navajo Nation land in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. One of the Risser Prize judges characterized the series as "great writing, great history and investigative work; overall, a great story that hasn't been told."
In August 2007, the EPA's Superfund Program compiled a Comprehensive Database and Atlas assessments of all known uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
In October 2007, at the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated 50-page Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA. http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/pdf/NN-5-Year-Plan-June-12.pdf
EPA completed assessments of 521 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo land in 2012:
Gamma Radiation was used as measurement because Gamma Rays are the strongest form of radiation, therefore, it can damage human tissue and cause mutations. Alpha and beta rays are composed of discrete subatomic particles and are more easily deflected by less dense matter. Gamma rays are pure energy and radiation, so only the densest of matter can deflect them.
The EPA has an extensive database of the problems, locations and remedies:
The question is what is being done?
A query on the EPA website for “Navajo uranium mines” shows over 12,400 records.
On 9/18/2012, EPA released a report that it had begun remediation work on three abandoned mines on Navajo land.
SAN FRANCISCO – This month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is beginning clean up actions three uranium mine on the Navajo Nation. The work, expected to cost $7.15 million, is part of the EPA's five-year plan to address uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation and is being done in partnership with the Navajo Nation's Environmental Protection Agency. Funding for all three actions is from responsible parties, rather than the Superfund trust fund. The three cleanups will take place in Cove, Arizona; Casamero Lake, New Mexico; and near Church Rock, New Mexico. The EPA expects to complete the cleanups by November.
On August 27, 2014, under an Administrative Order on Consent (AOC), Homestake Mining Company of California will assess contamination and address safety hazards at four abandoned uranium mines in the Mariano Lake and Smith Lake areas on the Navajo Nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Navajo Nation will oversee the work totaling about $500,000. Under the agreement, Homestake will also set aside funds for EPA's oversight of future cleanup.
It is necessary to emphasize that the contamination by abandoned uranium mines on Native American reservations. DOI opened the gates to anyone who wanted to mine—on the free land. Another example is the Spokane Reservation in Washington state.
Many of the boom and bust uranium mining companies have disappeared. However, there is also a challenge in getting existing companies to clean up their old mines—hiding under the guise of subsidiaries. Spokane Reservation that has been fighting for years for a clean up of historic uranium Midnight Mine, operated by Dawn Mining, a subsidiary of Newmont Mining, an existing U.S. mining company.
Newmont did not want to take responsibility for their bankrupt subsidiary, Dawn Mining/ When that didn't work Newmont tried to hold the Tribe and individual landowners responsible!! Newmont had the resources for a long draw-out, so the Spokane Tribe spent many years and lots of resources alongside EPA to get the clean up. The latest update: http://www.wise-uranium.org/udmif.html
I would like to emphasize that this uranium problem exists on other Native American lands. In 2007, I submitted a report to Congress Natural Resources committee concerning the situation. How much has changed since then? http://www.mining-law-reform.info/Urgency.htm
In a more recent case, 09/21/2010, the Denver Post reported: Owner of uranium-tainted mine defies Colorado's cleanup orders, fines:
Since April, Cotter, a subsidiary of San Diego-based General Atomics, has faced repeated state orders to pump and treat toxic water filling the mine, northwest of Golden along Ralston Creek. The creek, which flows into Denver Water's Ralston Reservoir, contains uranium levels as high as 310 parts per billion — more than 10 times the 30 ppb health standard for drinking water.
Currently, there are three coal power plants polluting the air, land and lungs on the Navajo Nation. One is on the northeast border. The two on the reservation land send power as far as Los Angeles, while 40% of the Navajos do not have electricity in their homes.
The DOI has processed permits for coal mines and power plants without a full disclosure of the health risks and without requiring that the plants to use OSHA standards. Did the DOI agents explain to the workers the pollutants they would be inhaling, did they explain to the community the pollutants that would be in the air on their crops, their water supplies and in their lungs? Did they explain to the community members why they would not be hooked up to power, when it was possible to send power to Los Angeles?
It appears that the Navajos receive no power from two of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. The Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Page, Arizona and the Four Corners Power Plant near Shiprock, New Mexico — are among the country's top emitters of carbon dioxide, releasing 17.8 million short tons and 12.9 million short tons in 2013, respectively.
I cannot find the exact users, only the owners, of the APS Four Corners Plant, but it appears that the Navajos might not receive power from its presence.
The owners of the Four Corners APS power plant:
Units 1, 2, and 3
Units 4 and 5
The Navajos definitely receive no power, only pollution, from the Navajo Generating Station.
Users of NGS power:
The Several years ago, when EPA announced more stringent equipment to control toxic pollutants the Central Arizona Project officials of Arizona gave presentations showing that the equipment would double the price of water to Arizona citizens—so the pollution should be continued as is even though the citizens getting cheap water rates (probably the lowest in U.S.) would not want to live in the toxic plume of a coal power plant.
Another recent betrayal of the Navajos was when Obama released the carbon reduction plan he left out power plants on the Native American lands. This omission leaves the Native Americans to fend for themselves, without having regulatory power at all over the power plants, that's not part of their “protection” by the Government. The Navajo Nation already has set standards for sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants on the reservation. However, what will the regs mean to the companies who have been with no legitimate oversight for years.
However, EPA does keep records of the Toxics that are released to the environment: Not surprisingly, the numbers are high. The releases are given in pounds. There are no numbers for uranium and its daughters, such as radon. As is too well known, uranium is prevalent on Navajo land with over 500 abandoned, un-reclaimed mines there.
1) Federal Air Pollution Regulations on the Native American land should be the same of off the reservations.
Coal mining is devastating the land, rendering it useless. A young Navajo, Tito Gutierrez made a touching, poignant video regarding coal mining on the Navajo land:
Records show that the coal lease prices were manipulated by DOI on Navajo lands. In 1963 when DOI negotiated coal contracts on the Navajo Nation land they gave the Navajos an unheard of low rate for coal. I would also like to see the comparisons of coal royalties paid to other tribes and non-tribal lands at that time.
Since DOI underpayment continued, when Peter MacDonald became the tribe's chairman in 1971, he went on a campaign to get Peabody to pay the tribe a fair amount for royalties for its coal mining operations. MacDonald pointed out that the tribe was only receiving 20 cents a ton royalty from the company, about the cost of a can of Coke (in 1971). MacDonald and tribal attorneys would after several years get a new agreement from Peabody that would sharply increase the tribe's share to 12.5 percent of the value of the coal at the mine site. At a recent BLM hearing on coal royalties, the Navajos came out in force to express their opinions about coal mining on their reservation.
BLM Coal Listening Session Farmington NM Part 1 of 2 August 20, 2015:
This practice of under-cutting payments to Navajo was brought out in the recently completed Cobell vs Babbitt- Salazar case. In particular, for a pipeline “right-of-way” across the San Juan Basin, Navajo allotted land was valued at $25-30 per "rod" (at 16.6-foot unit), whereas neighboring tribal land was valued at $140-$575 per rod, and land belonging to private landowners at $432-$455 per rod. Navajo allottees were cheated, in violation of the Government's fiduciary obligations, plus federal law mandating "just compensation" for such land use.
Water: Normally, coal from mining is shipped dry to the power plants. However, Peabody Energy in northern Arizona used a slurry line, not the usual railway, to convey coal to Nevada. The Navajos lost 30,000 acre feet of water from their aquifer with no consent or compensation. To make matters worse, Interior Secretary Udall covered for Peabody by stating the compensation for the water was in the royalty (20 cents per ton)!!
In addition coal power uses water. Evidently, the U.S. Government can permit unlimited water use for the coal plants, even without any disclosure to the Navajo Nation.
Yet the U.S. has not formulated a reasonable, just water settlement for the Navajo Nation. In 2003, the Government rejected the carefully planned Water Settlement that the Navajo and Hopi Governments had drawn up. The Arizona Senators then filed a settlement that divided the interests of the Navajo and Hopi, just as the U.S. Government has done with the reservation boundaries—causing long, expensive court battles between the Hopi and Navajo and the 1974 Resettlement Act that displaced hundreds of Navajos. At this time, the Arizona Navajo section do not have rights to the Little Colorado River that runs across their Nation.
Note the difference in the New Mexico and Arizona sections of the reservation (from Google Maps-satellite view). Although it is bare, desolate land that was relegated to the Navajos, one can see the difference. On the New Mexico side there is water available for their traditional agriculture, as noted by the green irrigation circles. On the Arizona side, not a speck of green is visible. Many residents have to drive miles to load water in 50- gallon drums for their home use.
Ancestors and Artifacts: The DOI needs to assure that the coal companies have a consultation with Native Americans before any removal of any the Native American ancestral bones and artifacts, so that the Native Americans can retain their ancestral property. In 1967 Peabody Energy (NGS coal plant) needed to clear land it was leasing on the Navajo reservation to mine the coal, but ancient Indian dwellings and graves were in the way. So, as required by law, it did hire archeologists who dug up roughly 1.3 million Navajo, Hopi and ancient Anasazi artifacts – including the remains of 200 Native Americans – which have been warehoused at two universities ever since. The Navajos were not involved in the actions or decisions. They are still attempting to get the bodies of their ancestors returned, so that they can be give them a proper burial.
According to the U.S. Constitution, the Federal Government has a "duty to protect" the tribes. Frankly, I think the Federal Government can do better than the past. I sure hope so.