Tag Archives: Nm

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining- Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts By Emery Cowan local environmental group is one of five organizations suing the federal government over its approval of a proposed expansion of the coal mine that supplies the Four Corners Power Plant in northern New Mexico. The lawsuit, filed last week, challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s approval of a 714-acre expansion of the Navajo Coal Mine in northern New Mexico. The plaintiffs argue the federal agency did not evaluate the indirect and cumulative impacts of the mine expansion.

The extraction, combustion and waste disposal of the additional coal will cause the release of significant amounts of air and water pollution that will adversely affect the Four Corners and beyond, the lawsuit claims.

Coal ash disposal, dust accumulation, traffic and contamination of water sources are other potential environmental impacts, said Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The office of surface mining “put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant,” Eisenfeld said.

The approval “hides the true magnitude of the damage caused by coal mining and combustion in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change,” he said.

The groups argue the federal agency should pursue a more-detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of mine expansion.

Mine operator BHP Billington is willing to discuss with the environmental groups the cumulative environmental impacts, said Jac Fourie, president of BHP Billiton’s New Mexico Coal operations, according to news reports.

The 714-acre expansion is a scaled-down version of the company’s 2010 proposal to strip mine 3,800 acres on the same site.

A Colorado district judge ruled the Office of Surface Mining’s analysis of that proposal insufficient.

The current expansion proposal permits the company to extract 12.7 million tons of coal that will be burned at the Four Corners Power Plant.

“The two facilities are inextricably connected,” Eisenfeld said.

The mine needs the expansion permit to fulfill its contract with the power plant, he said.

The Four Corners Power Plant provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

It is the largest coal-fired power plant and the largest single source of nitrogen oxides in the country.

Recent regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that target toxic pollutants would reduce the plant’s emissions by 87 percent.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

10/7/2011 Udall Holds Oversight Hearing on Federal Efforts to Clean Up Uranium Contamination

10/7/2011 Udall Holds Oversight Hearing on Federal Efforts to Clean Up Uranium Contamination Original Author: Democracy for New Mexico: U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Children’s Health and Environmental Responsibility, held an oversight hearing yesterday on the status of cleanup operations at legacy uranium mining and milling operations in New Mexico and elsewhere in the United States. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testified before the subcommittee about federal cleanup efforts.

During World War II and the Cold War, the federal government relied on extensive uranium prospecting and development throughout the country and especially in uranium-rich areas of the southwest. The uranium industry emerged overnight, at a time of minimal understanding or protection for individuals and the environment. The resulting radiological contamination created a legacy of sickness and pollution, a statement released about the hearing explained.

“The story of uranium development in the United States is a human story, and a tragic human story,” Udall said. “Even as the understanding of the dangers grew, the federal government failed to ensure that uranium workers and their families were safe from the hazards of exposure to radioactive materials.”

Navajo communities have seen some of the worst contamination. One of the most catastrophic examples, the collapse of the United Nuclear Corporation uranium mill tailings facility near Church Rock, NM, ranks as the largest accidental radiation release in U.S. history.

After Congressional hearings began to shine a light on the radiological contamination decades later, EPA, other agencies, and responsible private sector companies undertook the process of cleaning up thousands of abandoned uranium mines, and numerous mill and mine sites. Much work remains to be done.

Testimony: 3 Federal Officials
Udall questioned three key officials from different federal agencies about their commitment to continuing cleanup operations. All three pledged future support and acknowledged that significant work remains. Video of that questioning is available by clicking here.

“The Department of Energy established the Office of Legacy Management in 2003, with the express purpose of having a long-term, sustainable management of closed sites,” said David Geiser, director of DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. “So today we have 87 sites around the country that Legacy Management is responsible for…The Department set up the office explicitly for that long-term purpose.”

Udall stressed that each agency continue the ongoing cleanup projects and commit to providing necessary funding, especially for the Five-Year Plans for the Navajo Nation and the Grants Mining District.

“EPA has led the development and implementation of a coordinated federal plan to address the uranium legacy on the Navajo Nation,” said James Woolford, director of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo EPA, and, since 1994, EPA has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop and implement response actions.”

Woolford reported that the EPA spends $12 million annually for cleanup efforts on the Navajo Nation, in addition to $4 million annually from DOE and a $5 million special appropriation for reclamation of a contaminated site near Tuba City, AZ. Udall commended the EPA for its recently announced plan to clean up the Northeast Church Rock site, the largest abandoned mine on the Navajo Nation and highest risk site in New Mexico, but sought further details on how that plan would be implemented.

Regulating Future Uranium Mining
The hearing also focused on proposed future uranium mining operations. Udall pressed the EPA and NRC, which jointly regulate these kinds of operations, to ensure that new uranium mining does not lead to future contamination. Many communities with legacy contamination are still waiting for cleanup while new mining is being proposed at, or near, the same sites.

“While cleanup is moving decades after the initial contamination, some of these communities are faced with new proposals to re-start uranium mining for energy purposes, opening up old wounds, and arousing new passions,” said Udall. Michael Weber, deputy executive director for the NRC’s Materials, Waste, Research, State, Tribal, and Compliance Programs addressed the regulation of new mining operations.

“The NRC’s comprehensive regulatory framework ensures safe operation and decommissioning of the existing facilities, as well as any planned facilities. The Agency’s standards conform to standards promulgated by EPA,” said Weber. “After a license is issued for a new uranium recovery facility, the NRC or Agreement State provides continued oversight of the operations through periodic licensing reviews, inspections, assessment, enforcement, and investigations.”

Concerns on Proposed Mine Near Crownpoint
Pressing the NRC on their commitment to ensure safe operation and decommissioning of existing and new uranium processing facilities, Udall raised concerns about a proposal for a new NRC-regulated mine near the community of Crownpoint. In response, the NRC testified that the “unique” requirements of the permit and the regulations in place would ensure a continued and safe drinking water supply for the community of Crownpoint should the proposed mining goes forward.

Working Together
Udall urged federal agencies to prioritize existing cleanup operations and to continue to work together, coordinating with state and tribal governments, to assist communities that have been impacted by uranium contamination. In response, the three federal agencies committed to further public involvement as cleanup plans continue.

10/6/2011 Navajo Times: 'Another insult' U.S. EPA to begin cleanup Church Rock uranium site

10/6/2011 Navajo Times: ‘Another insult’ U.S. EPA to begin cleanup Church Rock uranium site By Alastair Lee Bitsoi: CHURCHROCK, NM: The announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 29 that it will begin removing radioactive soil from the largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation came as no surprise for local residents. Radioactive soil from the Northeast Church Rock Mine will be removed and placed in on top of a disposal cell at the nearby United Nuclear Corporation mill site.

The removal was one of 14 disposal site plans the U.S. EPA considered and preferred when it announced cleanup plans for the site in May 2009.

It took the U.S. EPA six years of planning and over 10 public meetings to keep area residents informed of the cleanup efforts.

Officials from the Navajo EPA, who will provide oversight along with U.S. EPA of cleanup operations by General Electric, said residents from the Red Water Pond Community were informed of U.S. EPA’s decision during a Sept. 27 meeting held at the residence of Grace Cowboy and Bradley Henio in Church Rock.

“Our first priority was to ship mine waste out of the reservation to a repository in Utah,” said Larry King, a resident and member of the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, on Sept. 30.

U.S. EPA’s concern, King said, was the cost of shipping the radioactive waste off of Navajo lands to a licensed disposal facility, which would have cost the federal agency about $293.6 million to transport. This compares to $44.3 million to transport to the UNC site. Also an issue is shipping the radioactive waste through a non-Native community.

“I’m very disappointed in the decision, but it was expected because it involved an indigenous community,” King said. “Yet, uranium was being transported across Native lands in the 1970s and 1980s with no concerns at all.”

Chris Shuey, a researcher with the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, said from a public health standpoint people are still going to be living near a radioactive site.

“The potential impacts of this decision are much wider in the community and the implications of this site will apply to other mines on the Navajo Nation,” said Shuey, who has conducted research on the impacts of uranium in the Church Rock area for the last 10 years.

“When we talk about the decision EPA is making it’s another insult to a long history of insult,” Shuey added.

According to the U.S. EPA, the cleanup at mine will include the removal of 1.4 million tons of radium and uranium contaminated soil, which could take up to another seven to 10 years to clean up.

“This is an important milestone in the effort to address the toxic legacy of historic uranium mining on the Navajo Nation,” said Jared Blumenfeld, administrator for U.S. EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region, in a press release. “This plan is the result of several years of collaboration between EPA, the Navajo Nation, and the Red Water Pond Road community living near the mine.”

U.S. EPA’s cleanup plan also includes sending waste containing high levels of radium or uranium off-site for reprocessing or approved disposal, address soil cleanup in a drainage east of the Red Pond Water Community, and provide voluntary housing options during the cleanup for community members directly impacted by the mine.

The removal of the waste to the UNC mill site, which has been a Superfund site for the last 20 years, also satisfies the Navajo Nation’s request to remove the waste off trust land. The UNC mill site is located on private land owned by UNC and GE.

Stephen B. Etsitty, executive director for Navajo EPA, said cleanup decisions are handled on a case-by-case basis and whether sites are time critical or non-time critical, according to standards set by the federal Superfund Program.

“A cleanup decision is based on a variety of factors, such as, but not limited to if there is a responsible party, the future use of the site, the amounts of contamination that remains at a site, the level of background radiation in the area, how bad the contamination is, community input, and the status of Indian law,” Etsitty said.

Etsitty said a U.S. 10th Circuit Court decision in 2010, which focused on the definition of Navajo Indian Country, ultimately weakened the Navajo Nation’s argument to have Church Rock mine waste material transported out of Navajo country.

“The resulting remedy decision is a compromise,” Etsitty added.

In addition to the cleanup plan, GE has agreed to provide scholarships for Navajo students to attend the University of New Mexico or Arizona State University. They also agreed to exercise Navajo preference for cleanup jobs, improve the Pipeline Canyon Road and provide building material for ceremonial hogans as requested by Red Water Pond Community members.

Michele Dineyazhe, remedial project manager who will provide oversight for the Navajo EPA’s Superfund Program, said the specifics of a cleanup date have not yet been determined.

Dineyazhe said a technical team consisting of staff from GE, U.S. EPA, Navajo EPA, the state of New Mexico, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will begin meeting to design the disposal cell. The design phase will take three years.

“Something like this is a milestone, but there is still so much work to be done,” Dineyazhe said, adding that the Navajo Nation’s position is to continue addressing the legacy of uranium mining at other sites. “Our intention is to do the best we can for the Navajo people and our land.”

The Northeast Church Rock Mine operated from 1967 to 1982 and included an 1,800-foot shaft, waste piles and several surface ponds.

GE conducted two previous cleanups at the site – one in 2007 that included the removal and rebuilding of one structure and the removal of over 40,000 tons of contaminated soil in 2010.