Monthly Archives: October 2011

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10/27/2011 Gallup Independent: The Grand Canyon – Protection of areas near national park from uranium mining a step closer

10/27/2011 The Grand Canyon – Protection of areas near national park from uranium mining a step closer By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent:  WINDOW ROCK – The Obama administration took a critical step Wednesday toward protecting more than a million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park from mineral exploration and new uranium mining for the next 20 years.   The Bureau of Land Management released the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal which identifies the preferred alternative of withdrawing about 1 million acres from new mining claims under the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights.  Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to formally finalize Wednesday’s decision in 30 days.

“Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said.

“The preferred alternative would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area,” he said.

The Final EIS estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years under the preferred alternative, including the four mines currently approved.

“It’s been a long struggle for us to preserve our homelands,” Carletta Tilousi said Wednesday evening. Tilousi, a member of the Havasupai Tribal Council, lives in Supai Village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She also works with a group of Havasupai elders who have taken the lead to protect the Grand Canyon and sacred places.

“I’ve watched my elders travel in and out of the canyon to come to these public meetings and voice their opinions,” she said.  “In my community it’s really been the traditional elders and the traditional practitioners that have really taken the lead to stand up in front of the federal officials and learn about the EIS and the BLM process and the Forest Service process.

“I’m very, very surprised, and at the same time I’m very happy that the government is finally listening to my people after many years. It’s really the elders’ victory. With the support of the Council they have been able to succeed in preserving it.”

Tilousi said cancer rates have risen in their small community, something she attributes to the federal government’s above-ground atomic testing at Nevada Test Site.

“We were downwinders of that and I have noticed that a lot of my people are coming face to face and battling cancer. It’s just another struggle from uranium mining and the nuclear industry that’s taken many lives from my community and the neighboring tribes. If the U.S. government really wants to preserve human life, I think this is the right thing to do – a million acres be put aside for preservation. No one wants to lose life over profit,” she said.

The Arizona 1 mine is 15 miles northwest of the village. Another mine is located 25 miles away as the crow flies, right above their watershed, Havasu Creek, she said. “That’s the river that we sustain ourselves with down in Supai Canyon.” Tribal members are conducting ongoing water testing to monitor for heavy metals.

“We’ve learned so much from the Navajo people and their challenges, that we really stood up against this. Since 1984 this has been an issue that my tribe’s been fighting,” she said. “It’s just been a lifelong struggle for me. When uranium was first brought up, I was probably 13 years old. Now I’m 41. When I watch my elders, all the challenges and fights that they’ve been through, it’s inevitable that I’m going to be old and still continuing this work.”

The Navajo Nation submitted comments in May through Navajo Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Stephen B. Etsitty and David Taylor from the Department of Justice, in support of the preferred alternative.

The Nation also said that if the Interior intends to allow for limited uranium mining and milling where valid existing rights are found, then it must be willing to provide adequate resources and technical support to the Navajo Nation for improved emergency planning and response capabilities to address any potential releases of hazardous and radioactive substances along transport routes, especially any that traverse the Navajo Nation.

In addition, Navajo requested enhanced government-to-government consultation on any subsequent federal decisions that could impact Navajo Nation resources, as well as enhanced federal policy implementation supporting the role of the Navajo Nation in any subsequent decisions the state of Arizona may make regarding uranium mining and processing.

Tilousi said one of her main concerns with the operating mine approximately 15 miles away on the North Rim is radioactive particles being carried on the prevailing wind at 30 to 40 miles per hour.

“It’s coming our direction and it’s coming through the air. People can’t see it or smell it or touch it, but I know, I sense that it’s coming through. That’s the scariest part. You don’t know how it’s affecting you until way later. And then it’s too late.”

Conservation groups commended Salazar and the Obama administration for the decision to protect public lands.

“The Grand Canyon is an international icon, a biodiversity hot spot and a huge economic engine for the Southwest,” Taylor McKinnon, public-lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Protecting it from uranium mining pollution is the right thing to do.”

Information: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html

10/17/2011 Navajo Times: Changes aim to protect cash from spending

10/17/2011 Navajo Times: Changes aim to protect cash from spending By Marley Shebala: There’s nearly $45 million in the tribe’s Undesignated Unreserved Fund but it may not be there for long if the Navajo Nation Council approves amendments to the Appropriations Act next week. Twelve members of the Nabik’yati’ Committee voted Tuesday to give the amendments a do-pass recommendation, making its passage a good bet during the Council’s fall session next week. The amendments, sponsored by Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Klagetoh/Nahata Dziil/Tse si’ani/Wide Ruins) would expand Ð instead of waiving – rules limiting the Council’s ability to spend the money, most of which is a one-time cash infusion from settlement of a lawsuit against Peabody Energy.

The intention is to protect the money from the chaotic methods of passing supplemental spending bills used in past years, said one Council leader, although some provisions would arguably reduce some restraints imposed under the current law.

The amendments moved at warp speed through the committee process, with the Budget and Finance Committee and the Law and Order Committee meeting during the Nabik’yati’ Committee’s lunch break to review the legislation, which they both gave a “do-pass” recommendation.

The proposed amendments would add language to the Appropriations Act that would allow the Council to make supplemental appropriations earlier in the budget year.

The current budget year started Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30, 2012.

The tribe’s spending law now prohibits the Council from making supplemental appropriations until projected revenues are met and the UUF, the tribe’s rainy day fund, has a minimum balance equal to 10 percent of the prior fiscal year’s budget.

In this case, that would be $17 million since the 2011 budget was $170 million.

The projected revenues for the 2011 budget were not realized until August, two months before the end of the budget year.

The Appropriations Act also mandates that any amendments to it must come from the Council’s Budget and Finance Committee, of which Curley is a member.

In presenting his bill to the committee Tuesday, said the reason for the amendments is to update the law and move supplemental appropriations legislation more efficiently through the legislative review process.

“These amendments make it simpler and easier for the Council to serve the needs of more constituents,” he added.

B&F committee Chair LoRenzo Bates (Nenahnezad/Newcomb/San Juan/T’iistoh Sikaad/Tse Daa K’aan/Upper Fruitland) said in a separate interview that the move to streamline the process for supplemental spending began as soon as the delegates learned that the UUF, which for the last couple of years has been millions in the red, now contained close to $40 million.

Bates, who has championed spending restraint during his years in the Council, said the amendment process was initiated to prevent a repeat of past years where last-minute spending requests would come from the Council floor with little or no explanation or justification.

Approval depended more on the political clout of the sponsor than on the proposal’s merit, with massive expenditures involving a little sugar for every chapter being particularly popular.

Bates also noted that the law currently requires the B&F Committee to hold hearings on the annual budget and supplemental spending bills, although the Law & Order Committee recommended that this responsibility be ceded to the Nabik’yati’ Committee, to which all the delegates belong.

Bates said that the committee’s proposed supplemental spending process would set priorities for allocating funds, such as the Peabody settlement, that are a one-time windfall.

Among the potential competition for supplemental spending are all three branches of the tribal government, which got significantly less than their stated need in the current budget.

According to President Ben Shelly’s 2011 budget message, the executive branch is short by about $65 million.

The much-smaller judicial branch’s unmet needs totaled about $1.6 million, according to previous statements by Chief Justice Herb Yazzie.

10/22/2011 Avoiding Hiroshima Obama could send a vivid message about proliferation with one visit

MARK PERNICE FOR THE BOSTON GLOBEMODERN HIROSHIMA is a contradiction, a profoundly futuristic city unwilling to turn away from its past. So when Hiroshima’s schoolchildren and its senior citizens staged a letter-writing campaign to persuade Barack Obama to visit the city, their intention seemed clear: Before the atomic bombing of 1945 passes beyond human memory, they want a sitting American president to bear witness to the city’s recovery - and, perhaps, express some remorse for the conflagration that preceded it.

10/22/2011 Avoiding Hiroshima – Obama could send a vivid message about proliferation with one visit By Peter S. Canellos: MODERN HIROSHIMA is a contradiction, a profoundly futuristic city unwilling to turn away from its past. So when Hiroshima’s schoolchildren and its senior citizens staged a letter-writing campaign to persuade Barack Obama to visit the city, their intention seemed clear: Before the atomic bombing of 1945 passes beyond human memory, they want a sitting American president to bear witness to the city’s recovery – and, perhaps, express some remorse for the conflagration that preceded it.

So I assumed when, early this year, the Foreign Press Center of Japan conveyed an invitation from a group of high-school students to visit the city as a journalist and learn, firsthand, about their desire to have President Obama visit.

Apparently, both the US government and the Japanese government jumped to the same concluson – that the people of Hiroshima wanted an American president to see what an American atomic bomb had wrought. In a 2009 State Department cable recently released by WikiLeaks, US Ambassador to Japan John Roos reported to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Japanese officials believed “the idea of President Obama visiting Hiroshima to apologize for the atomic bombing during World War II is a ‘non-starter.’ While a simple visit to Hiroshima without fanfare is sufficiently symbolic to convey the right message, it is premature to include such a program in the November visit.’’

Obama did not go to Hiroshima that November. But Roos, the Japanese government, and perhaps even the White House seem to have misunderstood the nature of this invitation, as I did.

In Hiroshima, both elderly survivors and schoolchildren made the same points: No apology is requested. A meeting with survivors of the bombing would be useful, but not to bridge any gap between the American government and the people of Hiroshima. The city is impressively in touch with its complex history, and doesn’t primarily blame the United States for its fate. Japanese militarism, and Japanese wartime atrocities, are on full display at the city’s Peace Museum and are discussed in the mandatory “peace curriculum’’ at schools. The real focus in today’s Hiroshima is on nuclear proliferation.

Young and old, the people of the city where more than 100,000 died in an atomic attack share a special sense of mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

That happens to be Obama’s goal, too – one he coupled with a promise that the United States would lead the way. That’s what got the people of Hiroshima excited. Obama made his vow in 2009, but hasn’t made much progress since.

In fact, the problem of nuclear proliferation is on the verge of getting much worse. If Iran and North Korea join the list of nuclear nations without serious consequences, the entire non-proliferation regime that has checked the world’s nuclear ambitions for four decades will fall apart. Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and many other non-nuclear nations – among them Japan – will start exploring nuclear options of their own. The genie will truly be out of the bottle.

Unfortunately, the international peace movement that has its moral and spiritual roots in Hiroshima maintains its Cold War fixation on the United States and Russia, the countries with the largest arsenals. If Obama were to go to Hiroshima, he’d hear a lot of idealistic, and perhaps simplistic, pleas to just stop the nuclear insanity. But he could, and should, turn the conversation around: The United States and Russia, at the very least, share a commitment to arms control; the danger of nuclear weapons spreading among rogue states and terrorist groups is a far greater threat to world safety. It’s something the international peace movement needs to focus on, just as Obama needs to engage the rest of the world in a moral quest to stop North Korea and Iran.

A visit to Hiroshima by Obama would, of course, prompt some blowback at home. Though many presidents, starting with Harry Truman himself, have expressed misgivings about the American role in introducing nuclear weaponry, most Americans, including hundreds of thousands of World War II veterans, still support Truman’s decision to order the atomic bombing of Japan. Obama probably couldn’t say anything to prevent at least some Americans from suggesting a visit would be tantamount to an expression of regret. But most people would understand that no apology was being offered, and no regrets expressed. There would be plenty of occasions for Obama to make his views perfectly clear.

Meanwhile, the inherent drama of a sitting president going to Hiroshima would make the visit a worldwide event, providing the kind of stage for an Obama foreign policy speech that he’s lacked since his Nobel Prize address in the first year of his presidency. And a forceful speech aimed at rallying the world against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea – and reminding people in every country of how threats have evolved since the Cold War – could have lasting impact.

There’s another reason he should go: A lot of the world wants and expects that kind of vivid, symbolic leadership from him, and he’s made far too few dramatic gestures in foreign policy. If it’s surprising to Americans how prosaic the Obama administration has been, it’s been even more baffling to the world. The billions of people overseas who chafed at the America-first swagger of George W. Bush pinned their hopes on Obama. Many are still waiting for his call to action.

And a visit to Hiroshima inevitably concentrates the mind — all minds — on the dangers of nuclear war. The stories of melting faces, of square miles of cityscape erased in moments, of the “black rain’’ that brought radiation poisoning and cancer to those even outside the city center, of the cases of leukemia decades later, the young women deemed unmarriageable because of radiation exposure — all are there, waiting for the world to hear.

This is the issue Obama wanted to make central to his presidency, the one that transcends all the crackdowns and liberation movements and peace negotiations of a fractious world. If Obama wants to send a strong message about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, he should go to Hiroshima.

10/20/2011 Navajo Times: Delegates say lawyer went too far with reform bill

10/20/2011 Navajo Times: Delegates say lawyer went too far with reform bill by Marlley Shebala: Should the people vote on proposed changes to the Navajo Nation Government Development Commission Act? The Navajo Nation Council’s attorney, Edward McCool, says yes. But the chairman and vice chairman of the Council’s Subcommittee on Government Reform say no. The disagreement between McCool and the subcommittee unfolded when Chairman Leonard Tsosie and Vice Chairperson Jonathan Nez saw that McCool had written the subcommittee’s proposal to change the commission as a voter referendum rather than an amendment to the act. Then he posted the referendum legislation on the Council’s Web site for public comment on Oct. 6.

Tsosie and Nez said in separate interviews this week that they believe McCool overstepped his authority, and that the subcommittee is expected to meet Monday, Oct. 24, at 1 p.m. in the Council chamber to discuss his actions.

Both delegates emphasized that the subcommittee had nothing to do with McCool’s decision to make their bill a request to the Council for a referendum.

“His clients tell him to do one thing and he does the opposite,” Tsosie fumed. “He’s just making our life harder.”

McCool said Tuesday that he was asked to draft legislation and he did that.

On Sept. 20, McCool sent a memo to Nez questioning the subcommittee’s plan to amend the law and reduce the commission from 12 members to five, eliminating representation for several groups in favor of putting more delegates on the panel.

McCool stated in his memo that the Navajo Nation Supreme Court noted the “significance” of the commission and its office in a July 2010 ruling: “Of all the entities established by the Title II Amendments, the Commission on Government Development and the Office of Navajo Government Development are the sole entities established according to the wishes of the people expressed through the coordinator of the Government Reform Project.”

Power to the people

McCool also quoted the ruling’s warning for the Council not to usurp the right of the people to determine their preferred form of government, which the commission was set up to determine.

The high court stated that “the power over the structure of the Navajo government is ultimately in the hands of the people and (the Council) will look to the people to guide it” and “that the power of the people to participate in their democracy and determine their form of government is a reserved, inherent and fundamental right expressed in Title I of our Dine Fundamental Law and the Navajo Bill of Rights,” McCool quoted in his memo.

Tsosie said the subcommittee already had a discussion with McCool about whether the Supreme Court’s decision meant the subcommittee’s amendments to the commission had to go before the people as a ballot referendum.

“We didn’t ask for (referendum) language,” Nez said Tuesday. “The chief legislative counsel has his own interpretation of the Supreme Court decision. We, as delegates, have our own interpretation. We’re following the Supreme Court order.”

10/20/2011 Navajo Times: Former MacDonald prosecutors replace Balaran

10/20/2011 Navajo Times: Former MacDonald prosecutors replace Balaran By Bill Donovan, Special to the Times: The Special Division of the Window Rock District Court has decided to go with experience in replacing Alan Balaran as special prosecutor. The division last week approved hiring Santa Fe law firm of Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg as the new special prosecutor. “The Rothstein law firm, led by attorneys Eric Dahlstrom and Richard Hughes, will continue the investigations into alleged misuse of discretionary funds by high ranking officials of the Navajo Nation,” a press release from the attorney general’s office stated.

The firm will also look into allegations of mismanagement of funds in the OnSat, BCDS and Tribal Ranch Program and other matters assigned by the special division, which is composed of three judges.

Balaran, according to the press release, has agreed to assist with the transition.

The law firm was instrumental in the late 1980s in the prosecution of then chairman Peter MacDonald Sr., his son Rocky and others in MacDonald’s administration for a variety of crimes while in office.

Dahlstrom, who has been a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association for at least 30 years, was deputy attorney general of the Navajo Nation from 1987 through 1991.

Hughes has also been a member of the Navajo bar for at least 30 years and was one of the lead prosecutors in the MacDonald case.

In the press release, the attorney general’s office said it was “fully supportive” of the appointment. Both the current attorney general, Harrison Tsosie, and his predecessor, Louis Denetsosie, are named defendants in the civil suit filed by Balaran.

The attorney general’s office stated that it “is fully committed to the resolution of these matters pursuant to Navajo laws, principals and cultural values.”

Dahlstrom, interviewed by phone at his Phoenix office, said Wednesday that the firm is not making any statements at this time about how it plans to proceed in the investigation and the prosecution of those who have already been named in civil suits filed by Balaran.

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65

FILE - In a Dec. 8, 2009 file photo Elouise Cobell, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe from Montana who was the lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit regarding the U.S. government's trust management and accounting of over three hundred thousand individual American Indian trust accounts, left, is greeted by Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar following an announcement on the settlement of Cobell lawsuit at the Interior Department in Washington, A spokesman for Cobell says the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties has died. She was 65. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta/File)

10/17/2011 AZ Daily Sun: Native American leader Elouise Cobell dies at 65 Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet woman who led a 15-year legal fight to force the U.S. government to account for more than a century of mismanaged Indian land royalties, died Sunday. She was 65. Cobell died at a Great Falls hospital of complications from cancer, spokesman Bill McAllister said.

Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in 1996 claiming the Interior Department had misspent, lost or stolen billions of dollars meant for Native American land trust account holders dating back to the 1880s.

After years of legal wrangling, the two sides in 2009 agreed to settle for $3.4 billion, the largest government class-action settlement in U.S. history. The beneficiaries are estimated to be about 500,000 people.

Asked what she wanted her legacy to be, Cobell said in a 2010 interview with The Associated Press that she hoped she would inspire a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others and lift their community out of poverty.

“Maybe one of these days, they won’t even think about me. They’ll just keep going and say, `This is because I did it,'” Cobell said. “I never started this case with any intentions of being a hero. I just wanted this case to give justice to people that didn’t have it.”

President Barack Obama released a statement that said Cobell’s work provided a measure of justice to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, will give more people access to higher education and will give tribes more control over their own lands.

“Elouise helped to strengthen the government to government relationship with Indian Country, and our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and all those who mourn her passing,” the statement read.

Cobell said she had heard stories since she was a child of how the government had shortchanged Native Americans with accounts for royalties from their land that was leased for resource development or farming.

She became outraged when she actually started digging into how much money the government had squandered that belonged people who were living in dire poverty on the Blackfeet reservation in northwestern Montana, she said.

She realized the amount mismanaged since the 1880s could be hundreds of billions of dollars. She said she tried for years working with two U.S. government administrations to resolve the dispute in the early 1990s, then decided to sue with four other Native Americans as plaintiffs when no progress was made.

The government dug in. Over the next 14 years, there were more than 3,600 court filings, 220 days of trial, 80 published court decisions and 10 appeals until the 2009 breakthrough.

Under the settlement, $1.4 billion would go to individual Indian account holders. Some $2 billion would be used by the government to buy up fractionated Indian lands from individual owners willing to sell, and then turn those lands over to tribes. Another $60 million would be used for a scholarship fund for young Indians.

Cobell spent the next year shuttling back and forth between her home in Browning to Washington, D.C., to lobby individual congressmen to approve the deal. She also logged thousands of miles traveling across Indian country to explain the deal to the potential beneficiaries.

She found unexpected resistance among some Native Americans. They questioned why it was so little, how much would be going to her and they attorneys or why it didn’t include a more complete accounting of what happened to the money.

Congress approved the deal and Obama signed it in December of 2010, a year after it was first proposed. A federal judge approved the settlement in June, though there are still appeals of the settlement pending.

Cobell discovered she had cancer just a few weeks before the judge’s approval in June. She traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for surgery.

Cobell was born with the Indian name Little Bird Woman, a great granddaughter of the famous leader Mountain Chief. She grew up with seven brothers and sisters on the Blackfeet reservation.

She graduated from Great Falls Business College and received honorary degrees from Montana State University, Rollins College and, earlier this year, Dartmouth College.

She was the Blackfeet nation’s treasurer for 13 years, and in 1987 helped found the first U.S. bank to be owned by a tribe, the Blackfeet National Bank, which is now the Native American Bank.

Cobell was the executive director of the nonprofit Native American Community Development Corp., which promotes sustainable economic development in Indian Country.

She won a $300,000 “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1997 and used most of the money to help fund the lawsuit.

Cobell lived on a ranch 30 miles south of Browning with her husband Alvin. Her only son, Turk, lives in Las Vegas with his wife Bobbie and their children Olivia and Gabriella.

She has a brother and two sisters who live in Browning and a third sister who lives in Seattle.

10/14/2011 NY Times ASIA PACIFIC: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo

Toshiyuki Hattori, who runs a sewage plant in Tokyo, surrounded by sacks of radioactive sludge. By HIROKO TABUCHI 10/14/2011 New York Times: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo: TOKYO — Takeo Hayashida signed on with a citizens’ group to test for radiation near his son’s baseball field in Tokyo after government officials told him they had no plans to check for fallout from the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Like Japan’s central government, local officials said there was nothing to fear in the capital, 160 miles from the disaster zone.

Then came the test result: the level of radioactive cesium in a patch of dirt just yards from where his 11-year-old son, Koshiro, played baseball was equal to those in some contaminated areas around Chernobyl.

The patch of ground was one of more than 20 spots in and around the nation’s capital that the citizens’ group, and the respected nuclear research center they worked with, found were contaminated with potentially harmful levels of radioactive cesium.

It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking.

The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.

“Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere,” said Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert at Nagasaki University’s faculty of environmental studies and a medical doctor. “But the government doesn’t even try to inform the public how much radiation they’re exposed to.”

The reports of hot spots do not indicate how widespread contamination is in the capital; more sampling would be needed to determine that. But they raise the prospect that people living near concentrated amounts of cesium are being exposed to levels of radiation above accepted international standards meant to protect people from cancer and other illnesses.

Japanese nuclear experts and activists have begun agitating for more comprehensive testing in Tokyo and elsewhere, and a cleanup if necessary. Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States secretary of energy, echoed those calls, saying the citizens’ groups’ measurements “raise major and unprecedented concerns about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

The government has not ignored citizens’ pleas entirely; it recently completed aerial testing in eastern Japan, including Tokyo. But several experts and activists say the tests are unlikely to be sensitive enough to be useful in finding micro hot spots such as those found by the citizens’ group.

Kaoru Noguchi, head of Tokyo’s health and safety section, however, argues that the testing already done is sufficient. Because Tokyo is so developed, she says, radioactive material was much more likely to have fallen on concrete, then washed away. She also said exposure was likely to be limited.

“Nobody stands in one spot all day,” she said. “And nobody eats dirt.”

Tokyo residents knew soon after the March 11 accident, when a tsunami knocked out the crucial cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, that they were being exposed to radioactive materials. Researchers detected a spike in radiation levels on March 15. Then as rain drizzled down on the evening of March 21, radioactive material again fell on the city.

In the following week, however, radioactivity in the air and water dropped rapidly. Most in the city put aside their jitters, some openly scornful of those — mostly foreigners — who had fled Tokyo in the early days of the disaster.

But not everyone was convinced. Some Tokyo residents bought dosimeters. The Tokyo citizens’ group, the Radiation Defense Project, which grew out of a Facebook discussion page, decided to be more proactive. In consultation with the Yokohama-based Isotope Research Institute, members collected soil samples from near their own homes and submitted them for testing.

Some of the results were shocking: the sample that Mr. Hayashida collected under shrubs near his neighborhood baseball field in the Edogawa ward measured nearly 138,000 becquerels per square meter of radioactive cesium 137, which can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Of the 132 areas tested, 22 were above 37,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which zones were considered contaminated at Chernobyl.

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said most residents near Chernobyl were undoubtedly much worse off, surrounded by widespread contamination rather than isolated hot spots. But he said the 37,000 figure remained a good reference point for mandatory cleanup because regular exposure to such contamination could result in a dosage of more than one millisievert per year, the maximum recommended for the public by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The most contaminated spot in the Radiation Defense survey, near a church, was well above the level of the 1.5 million becquerels per square meter that required mandatory resettlement at Chernobyl. The level is so much higher than other results in the study that it raises the possibility of testing error, but micro hot spots are not unheard of after nuclear disasters.

Japan’s relatively tame mainstream media, which is more likely to report on government pronouncements than grass-roots movements, mainly ignored the citizens’ group’s findings.

“Everybody just wants to believe that this is Fukushima’s problem,” said Kota Kinoshita, one of the group’s leaders and a former television journalist. “But if the government is not serious about finding out, how can we trust them?”

Hideo Yamazaki, an expert in environmental analysis at Kinki University in western Japan, did his own survey of the city and said he, too, discovered high levels in the area where the baseball field is located.

“These results are highly localized, so there is no cause for panic,” he said. “Still, there are steps the government could be taking, like decontaminating the highest spots.”

Since then, there have been other suggestions that hot spots were more widespread than originally imagined.

Last month, a local government in a Tokyo ward found a pile of composted leaves at a school that measured 849 becquerels per kilogram of cesium 137, over two times Japan’s legally permissible level for compost.

And on Wednesday, civilians who tested the roof of an apartment building in the nearby city of Yokohama — farther from Fukushima than Tokyo — found high quantities of radioactive strontium. (There was also one false alarm this week when sky-high readings were reported in the Setagaya ward in Tokyo; the government later said they were probably caused by bottles of radium, once widely used to make paint.)

The government’s own aerial testing showed that although almost all of Tokyo had relatively little contamination, two areas showed elevated readings. One was in a mountainous area at the western edge of the Tokyo metropolitan region, and the other was over three wards of the city — including the one where the baseball field is situated.

The metropolitan government said it had started preparations to begin monitoring food products from the nearby mountains, but acknowledged that food had been shipped from that area for months.

Mr. Hayashida, who discovered the high level at the baseball field, said that he was not waiting any longer for government assurances. He moved his family to Okayama, about 370 miles to the southwest.

“Perhaps we could have stayed in Tokyo with no problems,” he said. “But I choose a future with no radiation fears.”

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington, and Kantaro Suzuki from Tokyo.

10/14/2011 Let's Unplug Dirty, Old Coal Plants – Political weakness keeps them polluting 30+ years too long

10/14/2011 EarthJustice Blog: Let’s Unplug Dirty, Old Coal Plants – Political weakness keeps them polluting 30+ years too long: Across the nation, old coal-fired power plants are gasping for their last breath, having survived long past their prime because of political favors and weak government regulations. They would have died decades ago if not for a fateful policy compromise in the late 1970s that exempted existing power plants from new air quality standards in the Clean Air Act.

The compromise was based on a prediction that the plants would be retired soon, but instead it gave them a whole new lease on life, with a free pass to pollute for another 30 plus years. And until recently, there was no end in sight.

These plants continue to cough up toxic pollutants like mercury, lead and arsenic into the air. They are by far the biggest producers of the power sector’s pollution, forcing millions of Americans to seek their own life support – in the form of respirators and inhalers – just to get through each day without an asthma attack.

Earthjustice litigation is taking steps to close the loopholes and retire dozens of the old plants, while cleaning up those that continue to operate. We are employing a multi-prong strategy to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen pollution standards based on the best available science and technology.

National environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts are meant to be updated regularly to reflect the current science. Thanks to our litigation, the EPA has recently begun to deliver on the promise of our nation’s environmental laws by taking long overdue action on limiting mercury from coal, cleaning up the air in our national parks that is obscured by power plant haze, and setting national standards on water pollution. In addition, the EPA is currently on the hook for enforcing greenhouse gas emission standards, updating national standards for smog and soot.

Our goal is to end what amounts to government subsidizing of the coal power industry, and to invigorate the clean energy economy. That’s good for the climate, for our health—and for jobs. Early this year, a report by Ceres showed that the EPA’s two new air quality rules would create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years because of pollution control equipment and jobs from clean energy development.

As EPA does its job and these new regulations are adopted, dirty coal plants are being forced to decide whether to pay the price of significant pollution upgrades – or shut down and replace that power with cleaner choices.

Of course, coal plant owners and their allies don’t want to have to make that choice. Even now, instead of focusing on ways to fix the economy, the coal industry is waging an all-out defensive attack on environmental protections that are good for the nation but threaten their industry’s bottom line.

Some coal plant operators have seen the writing on the wall. Since many plants are already past their prime, some are choosing to retire—a hard decision made all the easier by our litigation. For example, this spring the owner of the Trans Alta coal plant, Washington state’s largest source single source of air pollution, agreed to shut down the plant by 2025 after coming to the realization that installing the air pollution controls necessary to comply with air and water pollution standards was not a profitable venture. Currently we’re also stepping up efforts to shut down dirty, outdated coal plants in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Montana, Nevada, Texas, Tennessee, and the Midwest.

We’re also working to encourage clean energy alternatives. Our clean energy program includes preventing construction of transmission lines that favor coal over renewable energy sources and encouraging smart grid developments that rely on clean energy sources like wind and solar, strengthening efficiency standards for appliances and buildings, and pushing full implementation of state-level climate and renewable energy policies.

The nation is at an energy crossroads. One path cuts old ties and moves on to a clean energy future powered by a mix of next generation power sources. The other path prolongs our dependence on an energy source that is cooking the planet and making us sick. The choice is clear. Thank you for joining with us as we help build the clean energy path.

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster: CREST the hill into the village of Iitate, and the reading on a radiation dosimeter surges eightfold—even with the car windows shut. “Don’t worry, I’ve been coming here for months and I’m still alive,” chuckles Chohei Sato, chief of the village council, as he rolls down the window and inhales cheerfully. He pulls off the road, gets out of the car and buries the dosimeter in the grass. The reading doubles again.

Iitate is located 45km (28 miles) from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant hit by a tsunami on March 11th this year. In the mountains above the town, the forests are turning the colour of autumn. But their beauty is deceptive. Every time a gust of wind blows, Mr Sato says it shakes invisible particles of radioactive caesium off the trees and showers them over the village. Radiation levels in the hills are so high that villagers dare not go near them. Mr Sato cannot bury his father’s bones, which he keeps in an urn in his abandoned farmhouse, because of the dangers of going up the hill to the graveyard.

Iitate had the misfortune to be caught by a wind that carried radioactive particles (including plutonium) much farther than anybody initially expected after the nuclear disaster. Almost all the 6,000 residents have been evacuated, albeit belatedly, because it took the government months to decide that some villages outside a 30km radius of the plant warranted special attention. Now it offers an extreme example of how difficult it will be to recover from the disaster.

That is mainly because of the enormous spread of radiation. Recently the government said it needed to clear about 2,419 square kilometres of contaminated soil—an area larger than greater Tokyo—that received an annual radiation dose of at least five millisieverts, or over 0.5 microsieverts an hour. That covered an area far beyond the official 30km restriction zone (see map). Besides pressure- hosing urban areas, this would involve removing about 5cm of topsoil from local farms as well as all the dead leaves in caesium-laden forests.

However, Iitate’s experience suggests the government may be underestimating the task. Villagers have removed 5cm of topsoil from one patch of land, but because radioactive particles continue to blow from the surrounding trees, the level of radiation remains high—about one microsievert an hour—even if lower than in nearby areas. Without cutting down the forests, Mr Sato reckons there will be a permanent risk of contamination. So far, nobody has any idea where any contaminated soil will be dumped.

The second problem is children’s health. On September 30th the government lifted an evacuation advisory warning to communities within a 20-30km radius of the plant. The aim was partly to show that the authorities were steadily bringing the crippled reactors under control.

But these areas are still riddled with radiation hot spots, including schools and public parks, which will need to be cleaned before public confidence is restored. Parents say they are particularly concerned about bringing their children back because the health effects of radiation on the young are so unclear. What is more, caesium particles tend to lurk in the grass, which means radiation is more of a risk at toddler height than for adults. In Iitate, Mihori Takahashi, a mother of two, “believes only half of what the doctors say” and says she never wants to bring her children back. That, in itself, may be a curse. “The revival of this town depends on the children returning,” says Mr Sato.

And even if people return, Mr Sato worries how they will make a living. These are farming villages, but it will take years to remove the stigma attached to food grown in Fukushima, he reckons. He is furious with Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the plant, for failing to acknowledge the long-term impacts of the disaster. He says it is a way of scrimping on compensation payouts.

One way to help overcome these problems would be to persuade people to accept relaxed safety standards. A government panel is due to propose lifting the advisory dose limit above one millisievert per year. This week in Tokyo, Wade Allison, a physics professor at Oxford University, argued that Japan’s dose limit could safely be raised to 100 millisieverts, based on current health statistics. Outside Mr Sato’s house, however, a reading of the equivalent of 150 millisieverts a year left your correspondent strangely reluctant to inhale.

10/14/2011 Gallup Independent: Law firm selected as special prosecutor

10/14/2011 Law firm selected as special prosecutor By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – The law firm that successfully prosecuted former Navajo Nation Chairman Peter MacDonald and other tribal officials 20 years ago has been named to succeed Alan Balaran as the Nation’s special prosecutor. Deputy Attorney General Dana Bobroff announced Thursday that the Special Division of Window Rock District Court appointed the nationally prominent Rothstein Law Firm to continue the investigations into Navajo Nation Council delegates’ use of discretionary funds, alleged crimes by tribal officials involved in contracts or payments to OnSat Network Communications and BCDS Manufacturing, the tribal ranch program and other matters assigned to the Special Division.

US News & World Report, in its 2010 ranking of “Best Law Firms,” gave the Rothstein Law Firm (Rothstein, Donatelli, Hughes, Dahlstrom, Schoenburg & Bienvenu LLP) the highest possible ratings both nationally and regionally.

Though Bobroff was not at liberty to release the name of Balaran’s successor when asked Wednesday, she said she thought the Navajo people would be reassured by the Special Division’s choice.

The Rothstein Law Firm was the first firm ever retained by the Special Division as special prosecutor. Balaran was notified a little more than a month ago by the three-judge Special Division that his contract would not be renewed.

“Mr. Balaran has graciously agreed to assist with the transition of the special prosecutor cases prior to beginning his new assignment with the federal court,” Bobroff stated in the press release. Balaran received his sixth appointment in August to serve as U.S. District Court special master for victims of the 1983 Beirut Marine barracks bombing.

Asked Thursday about his successor, Balaran said, “The firm comes with a superlative reputation.”

The firm’s Richard W. Hughes and Eric N. Dahlstrom, both of whom have been members of the Navajo Nation Bar Association for at least 30 years, will lead the special prosecutor investigations.

Hughes, whose office is in Santa Fe, started the firm’s Indian law practice. Prior to becoming a partner in September 1988, he spent eight years in legal service on the Navajo Nation and was a lead attorney in the MacDonald prosecutions, according to the firm’s website. His areas of practice include Indian law and civil litigation.

Dalhstrom, whose office is in Tempe, was Navajo Nation Deputy Attorney General from 1987 through 1991 and has practiced Indian law for more than 30 years, representing tribes in Arizona and Wisconsin. His areas of practice include Indian law, natural resources and civil litigation.

“The Office of the Attorney General is fully supportive of the appointment of the Rothstein Law Firm and stays fully committed to the resolution of these matters pursuant to Navajo laws, principles and cultural values – which requires that those who are proven to have engaged in wrongdoing are held accountable,” Bobroff stated.

“The Office of the Attorney General has the utmost confidence in the Navajo Nation’s system of justice that those who have not engaged in wrongdoing will have their names cleared,” she said.

Nearly a year ago, on Oct. 20, 2010, former Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie announced that Balaran had filed criminal charges against more than 70 of the 88 delegates from the 21st Navajo Nation Council. The charges alleged conspiracy, fraud, forgery, abuse of office and theft of funds ranging from a low of $650 to a high of $279,175.

This past May, after being stymied in his efforts to prosecute the cases, Balaran filed a plan with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court to streamline the court process by withdrawing the outstanding criminal complaints without prejudice – meaning they can be refiled – against all but a few defendants.

In place of the criminal complaints, around the end of July Balaran filed a single civil complaint charging more than 80 current and former Navajo Nation officials with breach of fiduciary duty, including Denetsosie and current Attorney General Harrison Tsosie, who has formally delegated all his responsibilities concerning the special prosecutor to Bobroff.