Tag Archives: Endaum

7/16/2011 Gallup Independent: Group says NM bent rules for HRI: Activists file complaint, HRI claims no favoritism

7/16/2011 Gallup Independent: Group says NM bent rules for HRI: Activists file complaint, HRI claims no favoritism By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau: WINDOW ROCK – Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining filed a complaint Friday in district court in Santa Fe alleging that New Mexico Environment Department bent the rules to benefit Hydro Resources Inc. by allowing the company to conduct mining activities before it made a decision on HRI’s discharge permit application. The complaint was filed on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of the 1979 Churchrock uranium tailings spill, the largest release of radioactive waste, by volume, in U.S. history. “This violation of the regulatory process by a government agency that is charged with protecting the public’s health and environment is unacceptable and needs to be reversed,” Eric Jantz, staff attorney of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which represents ENDAUM, said. “Rather than playing by the rules, the rules are being played.”

The complaint alleges that the state agency bypassed the normal regulatory processes to benefit HRI, a subsidiary of Texas-based Uranium Resources Inc., which plans to mine uranium in the Navajo communities of Churchrock and Crownpoint.

ENDAUM has alleged that HRI’s in-situ mining process would contaminate large areas of groundwater, including the primary drinking water source for approximately 15,000 people in the Eastern Navajo Agency.

Mat Lueras, vice president of Corporate Development for URI, said that given the anniversary of the Churchrock spill, “We were anticipating something coming out. We just view this as another tactic by New Mexico Environmental Law Center to delay our plans. It’s a similar argument they made against the NRC with the 10th Circuit ruling granting the license, and also the one that went to the Supreme Court, which was ultimately denied.

“We don’t think that they have ever been able to prove that our operations will harm the community and that our procedures will cause any adverse effects to the environment and the community. Like we’ve always stated, we continue to work with and educate the communities and try to be a good corporate citizen as much as possible.”

Lueras said the permit application is in timely renewal with the state and they are following all of the procedures and the guidelines of NMED to get the injection permit out of timely renewal so that mining can begin.

ENDAUM’s complaint states that the Environment Department does not have authority to accept HRI’s discharge permit application as a permit renewal under the Water Quality Act. According to the Law Center, the Water Quality Act regulations provide that the Environment Department may issue a discharge permit for no longer than seven years. HRI’s permit originally was approved Nov. 2, 1989, and was renewed last in 1996, but that HRI has failed to renew its permit since then.

The Law Center alleges that even though HRI’s permit expired in 2003, the Environment Department still considers the company to have a valid permit which would allow it to conduct uranium mining activities at its Section 8 site in Churchrock.

The Law Center stated in a press release that it had obtained documents through an Inspection of Public Records Act Request “that clearly demonstrate that the New Mexico Environment Department is willing to bend its own rules to assure that permit applicants’ financial needs are met.”

When the Environment Department took a regulatory position that HRI believed would hurt it financially and complained, the deputy environment secretary personally intervened to change the department’s position without having any basis in law or seeking public input, the Law Center alleges.

Ryan Flynn, general counsel for the Environment Department, said Friday that HRI’s permit application was timely received and is currently under review. The department has not made any final determination, he said.

Regarding the ENDAUM complaint and press release from the Law Center, Flynn said, “There are certain allegations that have been made that we disagree with,” such as the claim that the Environment Department is bending the rules to benefit HRI.

“We disagree with that statement. We respect the integrity of the legal process and we adhere to all of our rules and regulations. We have not bent any of the rules,” Flynn said. “I believe that this lawsuit is part of a strategy being developed by the Environmental Law Center to prevent this type of mining. It really has more to do with objecting to in-situ mining itself. I believe this is part of a concerted strategy to prevent that specific type of mining from ever going forward in New Mexico.”

According to court documents, Bob Gallagher – former president of New Mexico Oil & Gas Association and now a consultant for URI – sent a message to Bill Olson of NMED’s Ground Water Quality Bureau on April 6 stating that they were in receipt of a letter from Olson regarding the status of their permit, DP-558. He said Olson stated that “HRI must receive a renewal of DP-558 from NMED before mining can commence.”

Gallagher said it was the position of URI that that sentence “is in direct contradiction” with an NMED regulation, and that the particular section clearly states that their permit “shall not expire until the application for renewal has been approved or disapproved.”

Gallagher requested clarification. “It is our desire to see the sentence eliminated, which would be in compliance with the existing regulations, or to receive a complete clarification of NMED position concerning this subject matter,” he said.

On May 27, while Olson was on vacation, a revised and reissued letter was sent to HRI under Olson’s signature and signed on his behalf without his knowledge, review or approval, Olson stated in a June 2 memo to HRI. “This letter revised and removed language in a New Mexico Environment Department March 23, 2011, letter, authored by myself in my capacity as the Bureau Chief of the GWQB,” Olson said, adding that he did not authorize the revised letter.

In a June 1 message from George Schuman of the Environment Department to Olson regarding the revised letter to HRI, Schuman said he received a voice mail message and subsequent phone call the morning of May 26 informing him that Deputy Secretary Raj Solomon asked to meet with him. Schuman said he met with Solomon that morning in his temporary office space on the third floor of the Runnels Building where they discussed Olson’s March 23 letter to HRI.

“The Deputy Secretary indicated that the sentence pertaining to the need to obtain a renewal permit for DP-558 prior to commencement of mining was hindering Hydro Resource’s ability to obtain financing for their mine development project and directed me to reissue the March 23 letter absent the problematic sentence, or to propose alternative language to the problematic sentence.”

Schuman said he removed the problematic sentence and added language stating that NMED was in receipt of Hydro Resource’s updated renewal application and was currently conducting technical review of the updated application. “I forwarded the revised letter to the Deputy Secretary during the afternoon of May 26 via email and received an email response directing me to issue the letter. I signed the letter on behalf of Bill Olson and issued the revised letter on May 27,” Schuman stated.

Court records indicate that Schuman sent the letter to Solomon at 4:08 p.m. May 26. At 5:42 p.m. Solomon responded to Schuman, stating: “The letter looks good. Please sign and email me a pdf version of the signed copy.”

The revised and reissued May 27 letter was sent to Mark Pelizza of HRI and was signed “George Schuman for W. Olson.”

5/16/2011 Gallup Independent: For Navajo, suffering measured in radiation exposures

5/16/2011 Gallup Independent: For Navajo, suffering measured in radiation exposures  By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau:  WINDOW ROCK – In Diné Indian Country in northwestern New Mexico, suffering is measured in milligrams per liter, millirems, and picocuries – units that measure radiation exposures, according to a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining.   Eric Jantz, lead attorney on the New Mexico Environmental Law Center’s uranium cases, and Larry King of Churchrock – site of the largest nuclear disaster in U.S. history – held a press conference Monday at the National Press Club in Washington to discuss the petition filed Friday asking the Human Rights Commission to intervene with the United States to stop uranium mining within the Navajo Nation.

After 16 years of fighting, the Law Center has exhausted all legal remedies to overturn the mining license granted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc., or HRI.

“I hope that the United States, which holds itself under the beacon of human rights internationally, is going to observe its international human rights obligations at home,” Jantz said Monday afternoon. The petition alleges human rights violations against the United States based on the NRC’s licensing of uranium mining operations in Crownpoint and Churchrock.

“This petition is important because it’s the first time that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ever been taken to task for its lax regulations, and it’s also the first time that any group has petitioned based on the human rights aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle – in this case, the first step in the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium mining,” Jantz said.

“We’ve alleged human rights violations of right to life, right to health, and right to cultural integrity on behalf of our clients. We hope that this petition is going to shine an international spotlight on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States’ nuclear energy policy and at the same time, keep the uranium mining from going forward in our client’s communities,” he said.

Mat Lueras, vice president of Corporate Development for Uranium Resources Inc., parent company of HRI, said, “Uranium Resources stands behind our permits and licenses issued by a variety of federal and state regulatory bodies and are confident in our technology and people.

“We are dedicated to the welfare of the communities we operate in. We are committed to the safety of our employees, supporting the communities in which we operate and protecting the environment. We operate well within the boundaries of the rules and regulations that are required of us.”

King, a member of ENDAUM’s board of directors, said the NRC never should have given HRI a license for an in-situ leach mining operation in Crownpoint. “Why would the NRC approve a license to have a company go and destroy a community’s sole drinking water aquifer? It just does not make any sense. In the Southwest where rainfall is very scarce, every drop of water is very precious to us. We need to preserve every drop, not only for our generation, but for future generations to come so that they can enjoy what we’re enjoying today.”

The petition cites a 2003 article by Carl Markstrom and Perry Charley regarding Dine cultural attitudes toward uranium.

“In the Diné world view, uranium represents a parable of how to live in harmony with one’s environment. Uranium is seen as the antithesis of corn pollen, a central and sacred substance in Diné culture, which is used to bless the lives of Diné people. Dine Tradition says:

“The Dineh (the people) emerged from the third world into the fourth and present world and were given a choice. They were told to choose between two yellow powders. One was yellow dust from the rocks, and the other was corn pollen. The Dineh chose corn pollen, and the gods nodded in assent. They also issued a warning. Having chosen the corn pollen, the Navajo [people] were to leave the yellow dust in the ground. If it was ever removed, it would bring evil,” the article states.

Recent studies have found a strong association between living in proximity to uranium mines and negative health outcomes. The federally funded, community-based DiNEH Project – an ongoing population-based study – is examining the link between high rates of kidney disease among Navajos in Eastern Navajo Agency and exposure to uranium and other heavy metals from abandoned uranium mines. The study has found a statistically significant increase in the risk for kidney disease, diabetes, hypertension, and autoimmune disease in Diné living within a half mile of abandoned uranium mines, the petition states.

Jantz alleges that the United States, by virtue of the authority exercised by the NRC, has failed to protect conditions that promote the petitioners’ right to health by ignoring the impacts of ongoing environmental contamination from past uranium mining and milling while continuing to license uranium mining projects which will lead to further contamination.

For example, on July 16, 1979, the tailings dam at the United Nuclear Corp. uranium mill in Churchrock broke and released 93 million gallons of radioactive liquid into the Rio Puerco, which runs through King’s land where his family’s cattle ranch is located. Radioactive waste in the bed and banks of the river has yet to be cleaned up.

If HRI is allowed to proceed with mining in Section 17 – home to three families, including King’s – under terms of the license issued by the NRC, HRI may forcibly remove them or restrict grazing, agriculture, and cultural activities such as plant gathering during mining operations, according to the petition.

“It’s a pure human rights violation,” King said.

5/14/2011 Gallup Independent: ENDAUM seeks halt to uranium mining

ENDAUM seeks halt to uranium mining By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 5/14/2011:WINDOW ROCK – The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and its client, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, or ENDAUM, filed a petition Friday with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking to halt a uranium mining operation Churchrock and Crownpoint. A press conference is scheduled for Monday morning at the National Press Club in Washington. After 16 years of legal fighting, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center has exhausted all avenues offered by the U.S. legal system to overturn the mining license granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Hydro Resources Inc. Should HRI be allowed to mine, the drinking water for approximately 15,000 people will be contaminated, according to the law center. “The HRI license marks the first time that any mining company in the U.S. has been federally authorized to mine uranium in a community drinking water aquifer,” Eric Jantz, attorney for the law center stated in a press release. “This aquifer provides the sole source of drinking water for the mostly Navajo community members represented by ENDAUM. By granting this license, the NRC has failed to uphold its mandate to protect the health and safety of all Americans.”

On Friday, New Mexico Environment Department’s Ground Water Quality Bureau posted a notice that HRI plans to renew the discharge permit for its Section 8 property in McKinley County for the injection and circulation of up to 4,000 gallons per minute of “lixiviant” associated with the process of in-situ leach mining of uranium.

Lixiviant, which typically contains an oxidant such as oxygen and/or hydrogen peroxide mixed with sodium carbonate or carbon dioxide, is injected through wells into the ore body in a confined aquifer to dissolve the uranium. This solution is then pumped via other wells to the surface for processing, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

HRI plans to use injection and extraction wells to recover uranium from the Westwater Canyon aquifer at depths from 600 to 1,200 feet. Potential contaminants include chloride, radium-226, selenium, sulfate, total dissovled solids and uranium. The NMED posting kicks off a 30-day period for the public to request a hearing. HRI has stated its objective is to begin mining in Churchrock by mid-2013, and the community has few options left.

“ENDAUM’s best hope is to encourage the executive branch of the federal government to intervene to oppose this license,” Larry King, an ENDAUM board member, said. “Efforts over the past 15 years at the federal level have failed to engage officials and regulators about the impact this mining will have on the community’s health and water supply. We have to fight in every legal venue to prevent this mining from taking place.”

The petition seeks remedies for the violation of Navajo human rights and asks that the Commission recommend to the United States to suspend HRI’s materials license until such time as HRI has cleaned up the radioactive surface contamination on Churchrock’s Section 17, and the United States has taken significant and meaningful steps to remediate the abandoned uranium mines within the boundaries of the Churchrock Chapter, among other suggestions.

“Multiple international human rights treaties say health is a human right. The NMELC and our clients agree, and by licensing uranium projects in drinking water aquifers, the U.S. government has failed to protect the Navajo community’s human rights,” Jantz said. “New uranium mining will further desecrate Navajo communities across the reservation already suffering illnesses and death because of legacy mining and waste.”

Information: http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/gwb/NMED-GWQB-PublicNotice.htm