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.
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.
9/30/2011 US EPA: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: EPA Launches New Mapping Tool to Improve Public Access to Enforcement Information
9/30/2011 US EPA: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: EPA Launches New Mapping Tool to Improve Public Access to Enforcement Information: Mapping feature supports the White House Regulatory Compliance Transparency Initiative and improves public access to information. WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced the release of a new mapping feature in EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database.
As part of EPA’s ongoing effort to improve transparency, the EPA and State Enforcement Actions Map will allow the public to access federal and state enforcement information in an interactive format and to compare enforcement action information by state. The map will be refreshed monthly to include up to date information about the enforcement actions taken to address violations of air, water, and waste laws.
“EPA is committed to providing the public with easy to use tools that display facility compliance information and the actions EPA and the states are taking to address pollution problems in communities across the nation,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA is proud to announce our latest effort under the President’s White House Regulatory Compliance Transparency Initiative and we will continue to take steps to make meaningful enforcement and compliance data available as part of an open, transparent government.”
Map users can choose the year, the media (air, water, waste, multiple), and whether they would like to display enforcement information for actions taken at the federal level, state level, or both. Users can then click on a state to view facility locations and click on a facility to list its name, the environmental statute the facility has an enforcement action under, and a link to a detailed facility compliance report.
ECHO provides integrated searches of EPA and state data about inspections, violations and enforcement actions for more than 800,000 regulated facilities. Now in its ninth year, ECHO recently received its 10 millionth data query and has completed a record year of more than 2 million queries. President Obama recognized ECHO in his January 2011 Presidential Memorandum on regulatory compliance, as a model for transparency for other federal agencies to follow.
US EPA Pacific Southwest, Region 9 Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations: Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation: The lands of the Navajo Nation include 27,000 square miles spread over three states in the Four Corners area. The unique geology of these lands makes them rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II in the 1940s. From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills.
Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.
EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo Nation and, since 1994, the Superfund Program has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop a response. In August 2007, the Superfund Program compiled a Comprehensive Database and Atlas with the most complete assessment to date of all known uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Working with the Navajo Nation, EPA also used its Superfund authority to clean up four residential yards and one home next to the highest priority abandoned uranium mine, Northeast Church Rock Mine, at a cost of more than $2 million.
At the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA. EPA regularly reports back to the Committee and to the Navajo Nation on its progress (PDF) (2 pp, 489K) in implementing the Five-Year Plan. (The Progress Report was updated in August 2010 (PDF) (2 pp, 2.9M) .)
The Five-Year Plan is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. This landmark plan outlines a strategy for cleanup and details the cleanup process for the Navajo Nation over the next five years.
EPA is addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation — uranium contaminated water sources and structures. Approximately 30 percent of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to inform residents of the dangers of consuming contaminated water.
EPA will also continue to use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures. EPA has already assessed about 200 structures and yards and targeted at least 27 structures and ten yards for remediation as a precaution.
Over the course of the Five-year Plan, EPA will focus on the problems posed by abandoned uranium mines, completing a tiered assessment of over 500 mines and taking actions to address the highest priority mines. As mines that pose risks are discovered, EPA may use Superfund authorities, including the National Priorities List, enforcement against responsible parties, or emergency response to require cleanup. At the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the highest-risk mine on the Reservation, EPA is requiring the owner to conduct a cleanup that is protective of nearby residents. EPA is working with the community to ensure the remainder of the site is cleaned up.
Although the legacy of uranium mining is widespread and will take many years to address completely, the collaborative effort of EPA, other federal agencies and the Navajo Nation will bring an unprecedented level of support and protection for the people at risk from these sites. Much work remains to be done, and EPA is committed to working with the Navajo Nation to remove the most immediate contamination risks and to find permanent solutions to the remaining contamination on Navajo lands.
Superfund Site Overview
US EPA, SFD 6-3
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 972-3087
Toll Free 1(800) 231-3075
Fax (415) 947-3528
Lillie Lane (email@example.com)
Navajo Nation EPA
P.O. Box 339
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
8/8/2011 EPA and USDA Create a Partnership to Improve Drinking Water Systems and Develop Workforce in Rural Communities
8/8/2011 EPA and USDA Create a Partnership to Improve Drinking Water Systems and Develop Workforce in Rural Communities: WASHINGTON –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced a national partnership to protect Americans’ health by improving rural drinking water and wastewater systems. Nationwide, small water and sewage treatment facilities with limited funding and resources face challenges due to rising costs and aging equipment and pipes. Today’s agreement will send federal resources to support communities that need assistance and promote job training to help put people to work while addressing the growing workforce shortage in the water industry.
“EPA and USDA have joined forces to leverage our expertise and resources to improve drinking water and wastewater systems in small towns across the country,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “A critical part of this agreement is to ensure that we have a well trained, professional workforce available to replace workers when they leave or retire.”
“The agreement we are announcing today represents an exciting partnership between USDA and EPA that will greatly enhance our investments in water systems and also in developing a skilled workforce to oversee them,” said Jonathan Adelstein, administrator for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. “By working together, our agencies will strengthen their capacity to provide rural residents with safe, clean, well-managed water and wastewater systems for years to come.”
Under the agreement, EPA and USDA will work together to promote jobs by targeting specific audiences, providing training for new water careers and coordinating outreach efforts that will bring greater public visibility to the workforce needs of the industry, and develop a new generation of trained water professionals. EPA and USDA will also facilitate the exchange of successful recruitment and training strategies among stakeholders including states and water industries.
The agencies will also help rural utilities improve current operations and encourage development of long-term water quality improvement plans. The plans will include developing sustainable management practices to cut costs and improve performance.
Since taking office, President Obama’s administration has taken significant steps to improve the lives of rural Americans. For instance, the administration has set goals to modernize infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas and providing affordable health care. In the long term, these unparalleled rural investments will help ensure that America’s rural communities are thriving economically.
In June, President Obama signed an executive order establishing the first White House Rural Council, chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack. The White House Rural Council will work throughout government to create policies that will help realize the administration’s goals for rural communities. Today’s agreement is part of that initiative.
More about the EPA-USDA agreement: http://water.epa.gov/type/drink/pws/smallsystems/partners.cfm#moa
EPA: Dale Kemery (News Media Only)
USDA: Dane Henshall
More about EPA’s programs and tools for small water systems: http://water.epa.gov/type/drink/pws/smallsystems/index.cfm
More about USDA’s Water and Environmental Programs for rural communities:
Obama Administration Advances Efforts to Protect Health of U.S. Communities Overburdened by Pollution
Obama Administration Advances Efforts to Protect Health of U.S. Communities Overburdened by Pollution Federal Agencies Sign Environmental Justice Memorandum of Understanding WASHINGTON – Building on its commitment to ensuring strong protection from environmental and health hazards for all Americans, the Obama Administration today announced Federal agencies have agreed to develop environmental justice strategies to protect the health of people living in communities overburdened by pollution and provide the public with annual progress reports on their efforts. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder were joined by agency heads across the Administration in signing the “Memorandum of Understanding on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898” (EJ MOU).
“All too often, low-income, minority and Native Americans live in the shadows of our society’s worst pollution, facing disproportionate health impacts and greater obstacles to economic growth in communities that can’t attract businesses and new jobs. Expanding the conversation on environmentalism and working for environmental justice are some of my top priorities for the work of the EPA, and we’re glad to have President Obama’s leadership and the help of our federal partners in this important effort,” said Jackson. “Every agency has a unique and important role to play in ensuring that all communities receive the health and environmental protections they deserve. Our broad collaboration will mean real progress for overburdened communities.”
“All Americans deserve the opportunity to enjoy the health and economic benefits of a clean environment. Too many low-income and minority communities shoulder an unacceptable burden of pollution, affecting the health of American families and the economic potential of American communities, and the country as a whole,” said Sutley. “The Memorandum of Understanding helps integrate environmental justice into the missions of Federal agencies, demonstrating our commitment to ensuring America truly is a country of equal opportunity for all.”
“Today’s memorandum will reinforce the federal government’s commitment to the guiding principles of environmental justice – that the wealth, poverty, or race of any people should not determine the quality and health of the environment in which they live their lives,” said Holder. “These are important steps to ensure that environmental justice is an integral part of our work.”
“Today, we understand better than ever that our health is not just determined by what happens in the doctor’s office. It is affected by where we live, work, go to school and play, by what we eat and drink, and by the air we breathe,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Katherine Sebelius. “HHS is committed to working with our partners across government to build healthy communities, especially in those areas burdened by environmental hazards.”
“Every community deserves strong federal protection against pollution and other environmental hazards,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “The Department of the Interior is committed to ensuring environmental justice for all populations in the United States – including American Indians, Alaska Natives and rural communities who may be among the most vulnerable to health risks.”
“This agreement is an important step in furthering the Administration’s commitment to ensuring healthy communities for all Americans – free from environmental and health hazards,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “The Department of Energy is aggressively investing in clean energy in order to improve the environment, strengthen the economy, save families money, and create the clean technology jobs of the future here at home.”
“No one should have to work in unhealthy or hazardous conditions,” said U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis. “The Department of Labor is pleased to be part of this important initiative to ensure that vulnerable workers have access to information and can voice their concerns about their working environment.”
“Like so many things, environmental justice starts in the home, where families spend most of their time,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Whether it’s removing potentially dangerous lead-based paint from homes or helping to redevelop polluted brownfields, HUD is a critical part of the President’s plan to protect the health of people living in environmentally challenged parts of our country.”
Environmental justice means that all communities overburdened by pollution – particularly minority, low income and tribal communities – deserve the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, equal access to the Federal decision-making process, and a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
The signing of the EJ MOU is the latest in a series of steps the Obama Administration has taken to elevate the environmental justice conversation and address the inequities that may be present in some communities. Last September, Jackson and Sutley reconvened the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice (EJ IWG) for the first time in more than a decade.
In December, at the White House Environmental Justice Forum, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior Administration officials met with more than 100 environmental justice leaders from across the country to engage advocates on issues that are affecting their communities, including reducing air pollution, addressing health disparities, and capitalizing on emerging clean energy job opportunities. The EJ MOU reflects the dialogue, concerns and commitments made at the forum and other public events. Since her appointment, Jackson has also joined congressional leaders across the country to tour impacted communities and hear residents’ concerns.
The MOU advances agency responsibilities outlined in the 1994 Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.” The Executive Order directs each of the named Federal agencies to make environmental justice part of its mission and to work with the other agencies on environmental justice issues as members of the EJ IWG. The EJ MOU broadens the reach of the EJ IWG to include participant agencies not originally named in Executive Order 12898 and adopts an EJ IWG charter, which provides the workgroup with more structure and direction.
It also formalizes the environmental justice commitments that agencies have made over the past year, providing a roadmap for agencies to better coordinate their efforts. Specific areas of focus include considering the environmental justice impacts of climate adaptation and commercial transportation, and strengthening environmental justice efforts under the National Environmental Policy Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The MOU also outlines processes and procedures to help overburdened communities more efficiently and effectively engage agencies as they make decisions.
The following agencies signed the EJ MOU: Environmental Protection Agency; White House Council on Environmental Quality; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Agriculture; Department of Commerce; Department of Defense; Department of Education; Department of Energy; Department of Homeland Security; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Interior; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of Veterans Affairs; General Services Administration; and Small Business Administration.
Read the EJ MOU: http://epa.gov/environmentaljustice/resources/publications/interagency/ej-mou-2011-08.pdf (6 pp, 42K)
More information on the EJ IWG: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/interagency/index.html
8/1/2011 US EPA News Release: EPA enters into agreement with Chevron to investigate soil contamination at uranium mine on the Navajo Reservation
8/1/2011 US EPA News Release: EPA enters into agreement with Chevron to investigate soil contamination at uranium mine on the Navajo Reservation: Contact Information: Margot Perez-Sullivan, (415) 947-4149, firstname.lastname@example.org: SAN FRANCISCO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached an agreement with Chevron USA Inc. to investigate radium-contaminated soil at the Mariano Lake Mine site, a former uranium mine located on the Navajo Nation near Gallup, New Mexico. The agreement is the latest result of an ongoing effort by EPA and Navajo Nation to address contamination from the legacy of uranium mining in the Navajo Nation.
Under the agreement, Chevron will conduct a radiological survey and sample radium-contaminated soil throughout the 31-acre Mariano Lake Mine site and surrounding area, including 10 residences and two nearby water wells. Chevron also agreed to pay EPA’s oversight costs.
“This investigation is part of EPA’s commitment to help the Navajo Nation deal with the significant impacts of historic uranium mining,” said Jared Blumenfeld, Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region. “We are working to make sure that every responsible party takes the steps needed to protect Navajo families from radioactive contamination.”
Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation President, said, “On behalf of the communities in and around Mariano Lake, I extend my sincere appreciation for the agreement today between the U.S. EPA and Chevron. I look forward to the data that will be generated in this investigation, and I respectfully request U.S. EPA to understand our desires for the most protective clean up plans that will help restore harmony in our communities and homes. This type of agreement will continue to help us as we work to correct the harmful legacy of past uranium mining and milling on the Navajo Nation.”
EPA and the Navajo EPA will oversee field work, which will include construction of a fence and application of a sealant to contaminated soils where people live, work and play while the investigation is carried out. The order also requires Chevron to post signs, lock gates and prevent livestock from getting into areas of known contamination prior to cleanup.
The Mariano Lake Mine site operated as a uranium ore mine from approximately 1977 to 1982, and includes one 500-foot deep shaft, waste piles, and several surface ponds. Exposure to elevated levels of radium over a long period of time can result in anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, and cancer, especially bone cancer.
Chevron is the fifth responsible party that EPA has required to take actions at former uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. EPA’s work with Navajo Nation to identify and enforce against responsible parties is part of a 5-year plan to address the problem, which can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/