7/30/2011 Forgotten People's Comments for the official record regarding the draft Navajo Nation Energy Plan

7/30/2011 Forgotten People’s Comments for the official record regarding the draft Navajo Nation Energy Plan Via Email transmission to michelle@navajonationmuseum.org: Michelle Henry, Division of Natural Resources, The Navajo Nation Window Rock, Navajo Nation (Arizona) 86515: Re: Comments on the draft Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation (FOR THE OFFICIAL RECORD):Forgotten People is a nonprofit grassroots organization active within the Navajo Nation. We represent communities that span over 2 million acres of remote desert terrain in the northeastern part of Arizona. Most of the members practice a subsistence lifestyle of herding sheep. Many elderly community members speak only Dinè (the preferred nomenclature of the Navajo people). Forgotten People is herewith submitting these Comments for the official record regarding the draft Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation:

Forgotten People is concerned that the energy policy focuses on the continued use of coal and coal-fired power plants and leaves the door open for renewed uranium mining when the Navajo Nation can become a leader in the forefront of alternative energy.

Forgotten People supports James W. Zion, Esq. and the application of the Fundamental Laws upheld by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that the land, property, resources and income generated from them are the property of the Navajo People. Forgotten People is concerned about a lack of transparency and fiscal responsibility by the central government through the use of “so called discretionary funds”, fails to provide an accounting of Navajo Rehabilitation Trust Fund monies and approves a lease re-opener for Peabody Coal Company’s Black Mesa mine when the Black Mesa mine does not have an operating permit.

Forgotten People supports the idea of civil society as an emerging concept in Indian country and supports the Right to Development, Navajo Nation adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the UN Declaration on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation. (See Forgotten People’s submission: “Stakeholder’s views for the Study on Human Rights Obligations related to Equitable Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation the Right to Water” posted on the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights website dated 4/15/2007.)

A 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze and forced relocation of 12,000 Dinè at a cost to US taxpayers of 500 million dollars was perpetrated upon our people so Peabody Western Coal Company could mine coal and power Navajo Generating Station. A legacy due to the export of coal and uranium mining is responsible for the observed adverse impacts of those mining activities on air quality, water quality, animal and human health, sacred sites, burial sites and cultural and historic sites.

Our communities face serious development issues. These issues have been compounded by the 43-year US government imposed Bennett Freeze. The Freeze was imposed in 1966 and is largely responsible for inadequate housing, lack of basic infrastructure such as paved roads, and pervasive poverty in the region. Only 3 % of families have electricity. Over 90% of the homes do not have access to piped water, requiring families to haul their water from other locations. EPA estimates 54,000 residents of the Navajo Nation lack access to a public water system. Only 24 % of homes are habitable today.

Since 1966, the population has increased by approximately 65 percent in the former Bennett Freeze area, forcing several generations of families to live together in dwellings that have been declared unfit for human habitation. The result of which has been a large number of deaths from exposure to the harsh climate.

The Bennett Freeze is responsible for intergenerational trauma affecting people mentally, physically and psychologically. Medical studies confirm that overcrowding in addition to the absence of running water, refrigeration, and adequate sewage disposal adversely impact the mental and physical health of Dinè residing in the former Bennett Freeze. These impacts range from youth suicide and mental illness; and an array of medical aliments including but not limited to kidney failure and cancer.

On May 6, 2009, President Obama signed legislation HR 956 and S531 to repeal the portion of Public Law 93-531 (The Relocation Act) to end the Freeze. Unfortunately, this did not address the extensive impact this law had on the Dinè people. While the Freeze has halted essential construction, including power line extensions, waterline extensions, and improvements to roads and community facilities, no rehabilitation program was developed to address the effects of the Freeze.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is involved in a major effort to improve access to safe water on the Navajo Nation and redress problems resulting from the legacy of uranium mining in the 1950s and 60’s as a result of two pressures. The first was a commitment made by the EPA at the 2002 United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in which the US pledged to reduce the number of its citizens lacking access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 50% by 2015. The second is the largest concentration of people without piped water and sanitation is on the Navajo Nation, especially in the communities served by Forgotten People.

A legacy of uranium mining has contaminated Navajo land and water resources. Close to a hundred percent of the demand for uranium stemmed out of the U.S. government’s pursuit for nuclear weaponry during the Cold War. From 1944 to 1986 across the Navajo Nation, mine operators extracted nearly 4 million tons of uranium ore which brought the ore to the surface.

The Navajo Nation reports the presence of over 1300 abandoned unreclaimed mines and the leeching of uranium from the slag piles into drinking water supplies was damaging water supplies. Up to 25% of the unregulated sources in the western Navajo reservation exceed drinking water standard for kidney toxicants including uranium.

Uranium in the drinking water causes multiple health impacts like bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water. Before the cause was known, doctors in the region thought they had discovered a genetic disease caused “Navajo Neuropathy”, which was associated with muscular degeneration, ulcers, vision weakness, and other severe health issues. Cancer rates among Dinè teenagers living near mine tailings are 17 times the national average. Reproductive-organ cancers in teenage Dinè girls average seventeen times higher than the average of girls in the U.S.

The Navajo miners were regularly exposed to radioactive conditions that were sometimes in excess of 750 times the generally accepted radon limits, which led to many instances of cancer, death, and other diseases. “Concentrated uranium was being blown all over the land surrounding the mills” for up to “a radius of a half a mile or so” which led to further contamination. Even after uranium mining ceased there were still radioactive problems that persisted through the mill tailings (the leftovers from the conversion process).

Forgotten People believes reaching our goals will require collaboration with the help of the Navajo central government and a human rights centered approach to development.

Forgotten People believes that in order to accomplish our goals we will need tangible improvements for our communities that would be greatly enhanced with the help of the central government.

Wars of the future will be fought over water, as they are over oil today, as our ‘Blue Gold’, the source of human survival, enters the global marketplace. While here on the Navajo Nation the most precious of all resources, our water rights, are being waived and minimized, endangering the survival of our citizens and future generations as a separate indigenous People.

In the last days of the prior administration, the Navajo Nation signed a Water Rights Settlement against the wishes of the people. Forgotten People believes the Settlement is a tragedy not only due to the minimizing of Dinè rights but the waiver of hundreds of millions of dollars in potential compensation for rights waived and a waiver for injury to water as we have seen in the Black Falls region where sources are still contaminated with arsenic and uranium, and where a US EPA Superfund contractor found, on November 9, 2010, that an un-remediated abandoned mill located yards away from a Wetland by the Little Col. River, in a flood zone, maxed out his Geiger counter at over 1 million counts a minute. This mill is in close proximity to an un-remediated abandoned uranium pit with high walls and tailings piles.

The corporate favoritism at Dinè people’s expense is throwing away money when Dinè s have to haul water by small barrels, drink contaminated water or have no access to water. The Dinè people do not get power from the NGS. It goes to Phoenix and Tucson and other cities. There is a fundamental unfairness and lack of information on the Navajo Nation. The issues addressed by Forgotten People’s highlight the need for strengthening and implementing cross-cutting principles in international human rights law. This is needed by the Navajo Nation in considering a draft Energy policy.

As members of a civil society, Forgotten People affirms the right to development and transparency. Public health is threatened by un-remediated abandoned uranium mines, coal mines, renewed uranium mining adjacent to our borders in the wetlands of the Grand Canyon, the ‘crown jewel’ of the national park system and the proposed transport of uranium through Dinè lands with no disaster response plan and the Navajo Nation remains silent.

Forgotten People urges the Navajo Nation to work with Forgotten People, Forgotten People’s attorney and grassroots organizations to develop an energy policy that will benefit the People, the environment and our future generations.

Respectfully submitted,
Caroline Tohannie
On behalf of forgotten People

Attachments:
• 7/29/2011 Comments on the DRAFT Energy Plan for the Navajo Nation (James W. Zion, Esq.)
• 7/19/2011 Forgotten People White Paper recommending a uranium transport ban amendment to the Dine’ Mining and Milling Ban
• 3/15/2011 Uranium Transport Analysis (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• Map of the Proposed uranium transport route through the Navajo Nation (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• LINK to Interactive Mapping (Arc-based) project (work-in-progress): http://myweb.students.wwu.edu/~sabier/ForgottenPeople (Robert Sabie, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)
• 3/16/2011 DRAFT Energy Policy for the Navajo Nation (Jarrett Wheeler, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University)

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