Monthly Archives: May 2011

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5/17/2011 Science Magazine: Utility: Fukushima Cores More Damaged Than Thought

5/17/2011 Science Magazine: Utility: Fukushima Cores More Damaged Than Thought By Dennis Normile: TOKYOOver the last several days, evidence has emerged indicating that the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was far more dire than previously recognized. The main evidence is extensive—rather than partial—melting of the nuclear fuel in three reactors in the hours after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami. Despite that bad news, however, today plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. pledged it would still meet the target set 17 April to stabilize the situation by January 2012 so 100,000 residents evacuated from around the plant can return to their homes and the decade-long process of demolishing the reactors can get started.

At first, analysts from Tokyo Electric and the government believed there was only limited damage to the fuel cores. But over the last week, a combination of robotic and human inspections has led to the conclusion that the fuel assemblies in units 1, 2, and 3 were completely exposed to the air for from over 6 hours to over 14 hours and that melting was extensive if not complete. Much of the fuel is now likely at the bottom of the reactor pressure vessels.

Despite extensive melting of the fuel, “we do not believe there is massive damage to the reactor pressure vessel,” Sakae Muto, Tokyo Electric’s chief nuclear officer told reporters this evening. Last week workers found that an estimated 3000 tons of water has leaked from the unit 1 containment vessel into a basement. In its 17 April roadmap, Tokyo Electric envisioned flooding the containment vessel and building a new cooling system to lower the temperature of the core. But the containment vessel now appears to be too leaky for that scheme to work. Instead they will collect water from the basement, purify it, and inject it back into the reactor pressure vessel, from where it will leak back into the basement. It is simpler than a new cooling system, but it will also require additional measures to watch for and counter leaks of contaminated water into the environment, Muto said. They may still build new cooling systems to supplement or replace the water injection scheme.

The 17 April roadmap for containing radiation also called for wrapping the wrecked buildings in tentlike structures of polyester sheets supported on a steel framework. That part of the work is proceeding as planned.

At the same press briefing, Goshi Hosono, a member of the Japanese parliament and a special advisor to the Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the crisis, said the government had decided to establish a mechanism to track the radiation doses and manage the long-term health care of the hundreds of workers battling to bring the crippled reactors under control. “This is not only in the interests of Tokyo Electric and the government but of all the people of Japan,” he said.

4/18/2011 PV Pulse: Bolivia Set to Pass Historic 'Law of Mother Earth' Which Will Grant Nature Equal Rights to Humans

4/18/2011 Bolivia Set to Pass Historic ‘Law of Mother Earth’ Which Will Grant Nature Equal Rights to Humans Written by Keph Senett: With the cooperation of politicians and grassroots organizations, Bolivia is set to pass the Law of Mother Earth, which will grant nature the same rights and protections as humans. The piece of legislation, called la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, is intended to encourage a radical shift in conservation attitudes and actions, to enforce new control measures on industry, and to reduce environmental destruction. The law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings, including: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Perhaps the most controversial point is the right “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

In late 2005 Bolivia elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales. Morales is an outspoken champion for environmental protection, petitioning for substantive change within his country and at the United Nations. Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries, has long had to contend with the consequences of destructive industrial practices and climate change, but despite the best efforts of Morales and members of his administration, their concerns have largely been ignored at the UN.

Jungle

Just last year, in 2010, Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca expressed his distress “about the inadequacy of the greenhouse gas reduction commitments made by developed countries in the Copenhagen Accord.” His remarks were punctuated by the claim that some experts forecasted a temperature increase “as high as four degrees above pre-industrial levels.” “The situation is serious,” Choquehuanca asserted. “An increase of temperature of more than one degree above pre-industrial levels would result in the disappearance of our glaciers in the Andes, and the flooding of various islands and coastal zones.”

In 2009, directly following the resolution of the General Assembly to designate April 22 “International Mother Earth Day”, Morales addressed the press, stating “If we want to safeguard mankind, then we need to safeguard the planet. That is the next major task of the United Nations”. A change to Bolivia’s constitution in the same year resulted in an overhaul of the legal system – a shift from which this new law has sprung.

Ocean

The Law of Mother Earth has as its foundation several of the tenets of indigenous belief, including that human are equal to all other entities. “Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family,” Choquehuanca said. “We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.” The legislation will give the government new legal powers to monitor and control industry in the country.

“Existing laws are not strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (a group that helped draft the law). “It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”

Desert

Bolivia will be establishing a Ministry of Mother Earth, but beyond that there are few details about how the legislation will be implemented. What is clear is that Bolivia will have to balance these environmental imperatives against industries – like mining – that contribute to the country’s GDP.

Bolivia’s successes or failures with implementation may well inform the policies of countries around the world. “It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” said Canadian activist Maude Barlow. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”

Gacier

Ecuador has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution, and is among the countries that have already shown support for the Bolivian initiative. Other include Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

National opposition to the law is not anticipated, as Morales’ party – the Movement Towards Socialism – holds a majority in both houses of parliament. On April 20, two days before this year’s “International Mother Earth Day”, Morales will table a draft treaty with the UN, kicking off the debate with the international community.

Read the entire document (in Spanish) here.

Mountains

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the 'skyline'

5/17/2011 Gallup Independent: Recreating the ‘skyline’ By Kathy Helms Dine Bureau:: MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah – Cleanup of radioactive waste piles at the 1940s-era Skyline Mine, an abandoned uranium mine high atop Oljato Mesa near Gouldings in Monument Valley, is proof that a small group of committed citizens crying out for environmental justice can make a difference. Without community residents coming forward and making their voices heard through the award-winning documentary, “The Return of Navajo Boy,” by Chicago director Jeff Spitz and Bernie Klain, it is highly likely that the exposed radioactive waste piles would continue to pose a hazard for years to come.

“The more people speak up, the more people make their voices heard, the more responsible government becomes – and that starts here at the local level,” Jason Musante, federal on-scene coordinator for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 9, said during a recent tour. The documentary has been good in bringing their message forward, he said.

Local resident Elsie Begay has been trying for years to get the mine cleaned up and a steel cable removed from her back yard. In 2001, EPA’s Emergency Response Section demolished one hogan constructed of radioactive stone. Begay and her family lived three years in the hogan. She later lost two sons to radiation-related illnesses. Her story is told in “Navajo Boy.”

Cleanup of the mine itself is a challenge. Oljato Mesa climbs to 5,794 feet above sea level. During the late 1990s, portions of the mine were closed by the Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Land program, which focused on removing immediate physical hazards, sealing the entrance to the mine, and consolidating and capping easily accessible radioactive waste.

But due to the steep terrain, a waste pile lying about 700 feet below the former mine and several hundred feet above the valley floor on the eastern edge of the mesa was not addressed. A “talus pile” of loose material near the base of Oljato Mesa is comprised of radioactive waste rock and ore that was either pushed over the upper slope or fell from the top of the mesa. A visible gray-green stain extends down the face of the cliff beneath the waste, denoting years of mining activity and runoff from monsoon rains.

Drainage from the talus pile has carried contaminated materials from the base of the mesa outward toward the road leading to Oljato Chapter. High levels of radiation have been detected.

When the mine was operating, a gondola was used to transport ore from the mine atop the mesa to the “transloading area” below, where it was placed in trucks and transported to a mill for processing. Ironically, that same concept will be used to clean up contamination on the valley floor. “We’re basically re-creating the ‘skyline’ to clean up Skyline Mine,” Musante said.

“The skyline would run up to the mine and back and forth and they would load the trucks out with the ore” at the transloading area near Elsie’s house and other nearby residences, he said. “There’s a few hunks of ore right there that have reasonable high activity counts, but as you move farther out, the activity decreases.”

To remove the waste from the face of the cliff, workers will cut into the hillside and use an excavator with a 75-foot reach to bring the material up, Musante said. “The high-line system, once it’s in, will operate kind of like a drag line to scrape up the face and collect the material.” Initially, EPA was just going to do the areas on the valley floor, but Musante said when he looked at it, he realized that all of the material on the cliff was going to come down eventually, so it was decided that it had to be removed.

“Basically, we have to ‘wipe off the table before we sweep the floor.’ That’s going to be very challenging. That’s also the area where dust control is going to be the hardest. Just the access alone is very, very difficult. The slopes are approximately 60 degrees, which is pretty nuts, and then, of course, the fall to the valley floor would be hundreds and hundreds of feet.

We’re going to have to work very, very carefully, take our time and go slow.” An estimated 5,000 cubic yards of material is on the upper slope. The majority of material to be removed is in the wash area. They plan to pre-wet it to control dust.

Workers first will tackle the top slope. “Since they’re going to knock some of that stuff down, we’re going to wait to move that over to the stockpile until after they’ve worked up above,” Musante said. Then contaminated soils from the drainage area will be removed and stockpiled at the transloading area where the “high-line yarder,” or skyline with a bucket capable of holding 4 yards of material, will be located.

“We’ll load the bucket, and then it will run it up to the top and drop it into a truck, and the truck will take it over to the repository. It will drop it into the repository, and then they’ll just be doing cycling. It’s all about production,” he said. “They basically will be moving 4 yards of contaminated material every six minutes.”

Approximately five home sites are located within 1,800 feet of the site. During the emergency removal action, about 30 residents living within a half mile will have to be relocated temporarily – no easy feat given the Navajo Nation’s shortage of housing, and especially during tourist season. In addition, a quarter-mile buffer zone will be created to ensure that residents living near the high-line yarder are not affected by any dust that might be created. Those residents will need to be housed through July.

Once consolidated, an estimated 40,000 cubic yards of waste will be placed in a newly created “interim” repository, or landfill, on top of Oljato Mesa. The high-line yarder is being used because the road to the actual mine and repository is a one-lane nightmare put in by Navajo AML and recently improved by EPA. The only way to navigate one steep section of the road several hundred feet above the valley floor is by driving in reverse. Transporting the waste by truck would have been far too risky for workers, local residents and tourists.

Scientists from EPA’s Superfund Technical Assistance and Response Team and laborers from the Emergency Rapid Removal Services are working together to construct the giant “Tupperware” repository where the contaminated material will be buried. Total cost of the cleanup is just under $6 million.

EPA has purchased 2 million gallons of water from the Navajo Nation at the corporate rate of over $4 per 1,000 gallons to use for the project. The water comes from unused U.S. Geologic Survey study wells. A temporary water supply pipeline of high-density polyethylene and pumps were installed to push water from a 20,000 gallon storage tank at the bottom of the mesa up to three storage tanks near the top. “We can’t haul water up this road, so the water moving system gets it up the elevation to where we can come grab it and then use it up top,” Musante said.

There was a lot of excavation of some very hard rock that had to occur to create the 3:1 compacted slope of the repository, he said. An all-terrain, 5,000 gallon water wagon with a cannon on top that can shoot water over 100 feet is used along with bulldozers to compact the soil hauled from a nearby “borrow area” by 30-ton haul trucks. “We had to hammer, hammer, hammer, with bulldozers ripping and grinding,” Musante said. “There has been some obvious logistic improvements that had to go on just to get this thing prepped.”

An 18-inch layer of fine soil from the borrow area will be placed in the repository, which has been dug out along the natural contours of the cliff. A 60-millimeter-thick, high-density polyethylene liner is then placed on top of the soil, followed by another 18 inches of the same bedding material so that when the contaminated materials are deposited, they won’t puncture the liner. A “bio-barrier” of 2-1/2 inch to 6 inch rock is then put down to prevent burrowing animals from creating an erosional hazard, followed by a soil cap to absorb any gamma radiation that might be emitted. Finally, a lined drainage channel will be installed to channel water away from the sides of the repository.

“You shouldn’t be able to tell any difference in activity measurements from being right on top of the repository or being just a small distance away on the mesa,” Musante said. Once disturbed areas are reseeded, “the cows can go ahead and graze.”

Musante is working with the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program to design an operation and maintenance program, which will involve annual inspections of the cap to ensure it’s not being eroded, and taking radiation measurements to make sure the activity levels are still protective of human health.

EPA’s Emergency Response Section for which Musante works solves imminent problems right away to prevent health threats in the near term. What happens with the Skyline waste in the long term – whether it is left in place in the “interim” repository or eventually dug up and transported outside reservation boundaries – is something the Navajo Nation will have to decide.

5/12/2011 The New Mexican: Members of state board say Martinez coaxed them into pro-mine decision on Mount Taylor

Members of state board say Martinez coaxed them into pro-mine decision on Mount Taylor: Associated Press file photo Some members of the state Cultural Properties Review Committee say Gov. Susana Martinez pressured them into turning around their stance on a Traditional Cultural Property designation for Mount Taylor, shown in the background. The committee voted two years ago to designate the 11,305-foot extinct volcano, which some fear would hinder the mining industry there, and did not challenge a judge’s remand of the decision.

Some members of the state Cultural Properties Review Committee accuse Gov. Susana Martinez of pressuring them to change their vote to protect Mount Taylor because uranium companies want to mine there.  “When a committee decides things, some official up in the state office can’t tell you how you’re going to vote or what you’re supposed to do,” said committee member Clarence Fielder. “But that’s what it seems like they’re trying do.”

The committee voted two years ago to make the 11,305-foot extinct volcano and surrounding mesas north of Grants a Traditional Cultural Property. But after uranium-mining firms and other landowners appealed to state District Court, state District Judge William Shoobridge of Lovington remanded the committee’s decision.

Before a March 17 meeting, Adam Feldman, the governor’s director of Boards and Commissions, asked some members to go along with Shoobridge’s order rather than join a challenge to the state Court of Appeals by Acoma Pueblo, according to Fielder.

Gubernatorial spokesman Scott Darnell said Martinez did not pressure the committee members. But he said that since the committee had only been briefed on the issue by its attorney in the case, John Pound of Santa Fe, Feldman “asked if the board would be willing to discuss the issue at an upcoming meeting, where alternative viewpoints could be shared.”

“The governor is certainly concerned about the economic impact of overly broad designations of land as cultural property,” Darnell said. “She does believe a balance should be achieved between important cultural designations of land and the state’s future economic growth. In this case, her concern was predominantly that members of the (Cultural Properties Review Committee) have the best and most complete information available to them.”

The committee voted unanimously to join the appeal. Pound declined comment. The appellate court is not expected to act for months.

Committee Chairman Ed Boles, a historic planner for the city of Albuquerque, subsequently asked not to be reappointed to the committee, effectively tendering his resignation. He did not respond to a message seeking comment but indicated in a letter that he objected to the Governor’s Office trying to influence him.

Laguna Pueblo Gov. Richard Luarkie, who served as the board’s tribal representative, recused himself from the vote because his pueblo had nominated Mount Taylor. Luarkie even left the room while other committee members huddled with their attorney. The governor later removed Luarkie from the committee and replaced him with Ronald Toya of Jemez Pueblo.

Darnell said Luarkie was removed because he did not disclose Laguna Pueblo’s role in the lawsuit during the appointment process.

Luarkie was not available for comment. Toya referred questions to the Governor’s Office. “I haven’t even had my first meeting yet,” he said. “I’m getting up to speed on everything. Let me get my feet wet, and then I’ll be glad to talk to you.”

Reginald Richey, a Lincoln architect appointed to the committee this year, said Feldman never asked him to change his vote.

“He asked me what happened at the meeting, and I told him,” he said. “I don’t have enough of an opinion yet on that. It’s still very much in a state of flux.”

State Historian Rick Hendricks, who serves on the committee because of his state job, said he believes the Governor’s Office is overreacting to the designation of Mount Taylor. He said two companies already have state permits to resume uranium mining in the area, and Traditional Cultural Property designation should not prevent mining on private land within the area.

“It’s just that there’s very much a climate, I think, that is anti-historic-preservation, anti-government-involvement,” he said. “It doesn’t really seem to me that the negatives that most people associate with (traditional cultural properties) are really even there at all. It’s not unique to New Mexico. Historic preservation is under attack all over the country.”

Alan “Mac” Watson, the committee chairman under Gov. Bill Richardson, this week sent out a news release about the controversy, noting that because Martinez has been slow to appoint members to the committee, it didn’t have a quorum of five of the nine positions until the March 17 meeting.

Watson said the designation has not brought the predicted negative effects on the area’s economy. Cibola County’s unemployment rate fell slightly since the designation was made, he said.

State law requires the Cultural Properties Review Committee to include an architect, an archaeologist and a historian, in addition to the state historian. “The whole point of requiring those professions is that they’re the people with the education, the experience, the expertise that puts them in a position where they can professionally identify cultural properties,” Watson said. “My thinking is that what the governor should do is appoint qualified professionals and then get out of the way to allow them to do their job.”

Fielder, who retired last year as a history professor at New Mexico State University, is the only committee member appointed by Richardson who was reappointed by Martinez.

He said that although he thinks Martinez was wrong to pressure the board, he has no intention of resigning. “I’d like to stay,” he said. “That’s why I asked the governor to reappoint me, and she did, and I have a certificate and everything. She could take it back, though.”

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or tsharpe@sfnewmexican.com.

5/3/2011 Indian Country Today: USDA Rules Changes Could Affect San Francisco Peaks’ Wastewater Ruling

5/3/2011 Indian Country Today By ICTMN Staff: USDA Rules Changes Could Affect San Francisco Peaks’ Wastewater Ruling: For years, American Indians have been working to get consideration paid to sacred sites. Now, in the wake of U.S. approval of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, it seems that at least some government agencies are listening.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service is revising its policy on sacred Native sites that lie on U.S. Forest Service lands, and as part of the retooling process has held a series of listening sessions with American Indian leaders and tribe members this year. Now officials are preparing a document for comment in June, and will send out the final draft by November 2011.


“We need your help to examine the effectiveness of existing laws and regulations as well as recommendations for future policy or guidelines that will ensure a consistent level of sacred site protection that is more acceptable to tribes,” the USDA Office of Tribal Relations wrote to leaders in November 2010, when the process began.

What they’re trying to do is make changes that better protect sacred sites, said Rodney Tahe, Navajo, a policy analyst with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission (NNHRC).

“It’s progress,” said Tahe. “We’ll see what comes out of it. Right now we’re just waiting for them to draft the report.”

Any rules changes—it’s up to USDA head Tom Vilsack to say yay or nay—could have major implications for the San Francisco Peaks outside Flagstaff, Arizona, which came up in the discussions, Tahe said. A controversial plan to make snow out of reconstituted wastewater for skiing has been permitted so far, but new USDA rules could cancel that out, he said, since the peaks fall under USDA jurisdiction.

“If you reverse the decision about approved wastewater usage on Dook’o’osliid (San Francisco Peaks), then these listening session will have made an impact,” said Chief Duane “Chili” Yazzie at the last hearing, according to a Navajo Nation statement.

In St. Michaels, Arizona, on March 16 about 80 people, plus NNHRC members, attended the final day of the listening sessions at the Shiprock Chapter House on the Navajo Nation, the statement said. About 40 attended the meeting at the Coalmine Canyon Chapter House near Tuba City, and 50 the one at the Navajo Nation Museum.

More information is available from the USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations.

5/17/2011 Bennet in letter to EPA warns of ‘potential toxic effects’ of uranium mining

Bennet in 5/17/2011 letter to EPA warns of ‘potential toxic effects’ of uranium mining By David O. Williams: Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet on Friday sent a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 8 administrator Jim Martin reminding him that the “EPA needs to be especially mindful of the adverse health effects that past uranium booms have had on workers.”

Sen. Michael Bennet

Bennet was referencing the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill in western Montrose County near the Utah state line, which opponents say the EPA is poised to approve despite outdated air quality regulations for radon emissions. Two Colorado environmental groups have asked the EPA to withhold approval until the federal agency updates its radon rules.

Bennet wrote that he’s heard from “Coloradans worried about the potential for toxic effects that uranium mining could have in this particular region. They have pointed to the nearby Uravan Mill as an example. As you know, the Uravan Mill is on your agency’s Superfund cleanup list because EPA worries hazardous releases from the site may endanger public health, welfare or the environment.”

The Democrat also noted that American taxpayers have already spent $120 million cleaning up Uravan and that he’s currently working to pass the Charlie Wolf Nuclear Workers Compensation Act and Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments to better compensate the families of workers sickened or killed mining or milling uranium or working in the nuclear industry.

Bennet urged Martin to seriously consider the concerns of local governments that have sent similar letters to the EPA regarding what would be the first new uranium mill in the United States in nearly three decades. The state and Montrose County have already approved the proposed mill, although the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance has sued both governments to block the mill’s permit approvals.

5/2/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement 'too expensive'

Northeastern Ariz. water rights settlement ‘too expensive’   By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent 5/2/2011:  WINDOW ROCK – The proposed $800 million Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement approved by the Navajo Nation last November is “too expensive” and will not be introduced to Congress in its current form, according to court documents.   An April 19 report from Arizona Superior Court Special Master George A. Schade Jr., states that parties to the settlement were informed March 24 by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that the proposed settlement is too expensive. Navajo Nation water rights attorney Stanley Pollack stated in the report that Kyl is unwilling to introduce legislation to authorize the settlement in its current form given the current political and fiscal climate in Washington.

However, Kyl encouraged the parties to reach new settlement language by June so that he might submit legislation to Congress prior to his retirement in 2012 at the end of the current Congress. Pollack informed Schade that the parties were scheduled to meet with Kyl last week in Phoenix to discuss possible terms. Since being advised that the proposed settlement is too expensive, the negotiating parties have been meeting to revise the terms and make it less costly.

The Navajo Nation’s San Juan River water rights settlement also had an estimated price tag of $800 million.

Pollack noted that terms approved Nov. 4, 2010, by the 21st Navajo Nation Council for the Northeastern Arizona settlement are no longer up for consideration because the settlement does not have a chance for success in Congress. No action was taken by the Hopi Tribe, as the document had not gone out to the villages for consideration by the Hopi people.

Under the proposed agreement – which had grassroots Navajos marching on Window Rock in protest – the Navajo Nation would receive 31,000 acre-feet of “fourth priority” water per year, while Navajo Generating Station would receive 34,100 acre-feet per year of Upper Basin water for its continued operation.

Any new settlement terms will require approval by the 22nd Navajo Nation Council and the 32 other parties to the settlement. Pollack reported that he does not anticipate that the terms will be approved by the time federal legislation is introduced.

When contacted Friday, Pollack said he was “hamstrung” from discussing the matter by confidentiality orders, however, he did say, “The Arizona discussions are not dead.”

The settlement springs from the Little Colorado River adjudication which has been ongoing since March 14, 2003, when the Navajo Nation took legal action challenging the Secretary of the Interior’s operation of various management programs in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. Numerous parties have since intervened, among them the state of Arizona, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Salt River Project, Arizona Power Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the state of Nevada.

The Navajo Nation and the United States stipulated to granting all motions to intervene and to a two-year stay of the litigation so the Interior could appoint an Indian water rights settlement team and pursue efforts to resolve the Nation’s water rights claims through negotiation and settlement.

On April 12, parties involved in the case requested a four-month extension of stay until Aug. 15 in the federal court case, the Navajo Nation v. United States Department of the Interior, et al., and U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt granted the stay April 19. The court has repeatedly granted extensions of the original stay issued in October 2004.

Water from the Little Colorado River system could affect the magnitude of the Nation’s claim to water from the main stem Colorado River. In 2005, the parties acknowledged that resources within the Little Colorado River Basin are not sufficient to secure a permanent homeland for the Navajo people. The “Kyl Report” and other studies have reached the conclusion that there would be a need for some imported water supplies from the Colorado River.

During November’s protest in Window Rock, Jeneda Benally said the Navajo people were opposed to having their water rights “sold out underneath us, because our future generations … are going to be affected by this decision, and 31,000 acre-feet of water is not enough. We need to be able to sustain ourselves as a people, and for that we need water. Water is life.”

Many of the grassroots people also were upset that the language called for waiving all “past, present and future claims for water rights arising from time immemorial” that are based upon aboriginal occupancy. Navajo also would waive any claims for injury to water quality – another concern of residents who have been impacted by past coal and uranium mining.

5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting a great success

The Saturday, 5/14/2011 US EPA Superfund meeting at the Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites was a great success. The room was filled to capacity. Debbie Schechter, Linda Reeves, Svetlana Zenkin and Brian Davidson, US EPA Superfund and Alex Grubb, Weston Associates, Contractor for US EPA Superfund presented. Frank Nez, Hathalie (Medicine Man) gave an invocation. James Peshlakai and the former governor of the Village of Upper Moenkopi presented opening remarks. Frank Nez, Lucy Knorr, Ethel Nez provided translation. People had a chance to speak and ask questions and US EPA Superfund conducted break out groups on water, abandoned uranium mines and contaminated structures.

5/15/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Uranium report ripped by Coconino County board

Uranium report ripped by Coconino County board by CYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter azdailysun.com | Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011 5:20 am: Local conservation groups and the Coconino County Board of Supervisors have found what they call “serious” flaws in a federal analysis weighing the risks and benefits of uranium mining here. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and Grand Canyon Trust are all questioning estimates that mining in northern Arizona could employ hundreds directly and thousands indirectly — saying those figures appear greatly inflated. These groups all support putting federal land bordering the Grand Canyon off-limits to new uranium mines for 20 years. It’s a scenario that would allow perhaps 11 existing mines to open instead of 30 and end new exploration rather than permitting more than 700 sites to be explored.

These questions have growing significance this summer because a 2-year-old moratorium on new uranium mining issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expires in mid-July, opening the door for mining exploration to resume across about 1 million acres.

An Interior spokeswoman said she did not know when Salazar might make a decision on the issue.

GROUNDWATER HARD TO TRACK

“The problem with this area is that there are more unknowns than knowns — especially north of the canyon, there is a huge area where the science has not been done to determine how groundwater is moving,” said Alicyn Gitlin, of the Sierra Club.

She raised the example of the drinking water for the Grand Canyon, which is supplied by a spring on the northern side of the canyon.

When snow melts on the North Rim most years, the water quality in the springs gets cloudy, raising an evident connection between events on the surface and water quality.

Estimates of how much uranium ore could come from each mine appear to be overstated by a factor of four in the long analysis (about the size of three Flagstaff phone books), said one consultant.

Projections on how much the ore could be worth into the future appear volatile, and determining who benefits from the industry is problematic, economic development consultant Richard Merritt wrote to the Interior Department on behalf of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“… inaccuracies in modeling the economic impact of the withdrawal … cause us to seriously question the veracity of the final conclusions …” Merritt wrote.

Federal agencies didn’t adequately weigh the risks of lasting aquifer contamination related to uranium mining, the four conservation groups wrote.

“(The analysis) avoids discussion of the monumental tasks and hundreds of millions or billions of dollars required to clean up deep aquifer contamination, assuming it is even possible. Commenting organizations raised this issue in scoping. Neither the federal government nor industry can guarantee that uranium mining would not deplete or contaminate aquifers,” they stated.

They raised other uranium-mining-related contamination in the Southwest, and drew a comparison to the Gulf oil spill.

“In their permitting of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil drilling, Interior Department agencies repeatedly dismissed the possibility of a deepwater oil spill and assumed that response resources and systems were adequate to prevent significant environmental harm in the event that a spill did occur,” they wrote.

DOMESTIC USE NOT GUARANTEED

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously signed a letter in April asking that a lot of federal land in Coconino County be put off-limits to uranium mining, raising concerns about the impacts to tourism and questions about cleanup in case of an ore truck overturning.

The county cited “hot spots” of radioactivity at former mines, as uncovered in tests by the U.S. Geological Survey a few years ago, and a mine on standby for more than 20 years that had not been closed.

The board contended that uranium jobs were possibly counted multiple times, but that tourism revenues might be undercounted, and raised complaints that monitoring for radioactive materials along haul routes into Fredonia, Flagstaff, Page and Cameron wouldn’t be adequate.

The agency noted that it might feel somewhat differently about the risks if there was a guarantee that the uranium mined from the Colorado Plateau were to end up supplying power in the United States, but there is no such guarantee.

“There is entirely too much risk, too many unknowns and too many identified impacts to justify threatening one of the most important U.S. landmarks and one of the most world-renowned national parks to justify the relatively small economic benefit associated with mining of uranium in the Grand Canyon region,” the supervisors stated.

5/15/2011 Washington Examiner: Critics blast report on Grand Canyon uranium mining

Washington Examiner, Published on Washington Examiner (http://washingtonexaminer.com) . Critics blast report on Grand Canyon uranium mining: Conservation groups and officials in a northern Arizona county say there are serious flaws in a new federal analysis of the risks and benefits of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors questioned the report’s conclusion that mining will employ hundreds of people and support thousands indirectly. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and the Grand Canyon Trust agree. The conservationists also worry that water quality could be affected. These groups all support putting federal land bordering the Grand Canyon off-limits to new uranium mines for 20 years. That would still allow perhaps 11 existing mines but end new exploration that could permit more than 700 sites to be explored. Their opinions were contained in responses to an environmental study obtained by the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff.

These questions have growing significance because a 2-year-old moratorium on new uranium mining issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expires in mid-July, opening the door for mining exploration to resume across about 1 million acres.

An Interior spokeswoman said she did not know when Salazar might make a decision on the issue.

Representatives in Washington County, Utah, are already on record saying they want the federal government to allow more uranium mining. They say it would not cause environmental damage and could bring billions of dollars to the area’s economy.

Representatives from the mining industry also say it would have little environmental impact.

The conservation groups disagree.

“The problem with this area is that there are more unknowns than knowns — especially north of the canyon, there is a huge area where the science has not been done to determine how groundwater is moving,” said Alicyn Gitlin, of the Sierra Club.

She cited the drinking water for the Grand Canyon, which is supplied by a spring on the northern side of the canyon.

When snow melts on the North Rim most years, the water quality in the springs gets cloudy, raising an evident connection between events on the surface and water quality.

Projections on how much the ore could be worth into the future appear volatile, and determining who benefits from the industry is problematic, economic development consultant Richard Merritt wrote to the Interior Department on behalf of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“… inaccuracies in modeling the economic impact of the withdrawal … cause us to seriously question the veracity of the final conclusions …” Merritt wrote.

Federal agencies also didn’t adequately weigh the risks of lasting aquifer contamination related to uranium mining, the four conservation groups wrote.

“(The analysis) avoids discussion of the monumental tasks and hundreds of millions or billions of dollars required to clean up deep aquifer contamination, assuming it is even possible. Commenting organizations raised this issue in scoping. Neither the federal government nor industry can guarantee that uranium mining would not deplete or contaminate aquifers,” they stated.

In an April letter, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors asked that a lot of federal land in Coconino County be put off-limits to uranium mining. They raised concerns about the impacts to tourism and questions about cleanup in case of an ore truck overturning.

The county cited “hot spots” of radioactivity at former mines.

The board contended that uranium jobs were possibly counted multiple times, but that tourism revenues might be undercounted, and raised complaints that monitoring for radioactive materials along haul routes into Fredonia, Flagstaff, Page and Cameron wouldn’t be adequate.

“There is entirely too much risk, too many unknowns and too many identified impacts to justify threatening one of the most important U.S. landmarks and one of the most world-renowned national parks to justify the relatively small economic benefit associated with mining of uranium in the Grand Canyon region,” the supervisors stated.