U.S. EPA Tribal Consultation on Abandoned Uranium Mines Cleanup

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye at EPA consultation.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye at EPA consultation.

Published April 25, 2016

TSE BONITO, NEW MEXICO —Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez met with representatives from the U.S. EPA, U.S. Department of Energy, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Indian Health Services.

This consultation meeting was a continuing discussion of federal action to address impacts of uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. As the first five-year plan comes to completion, the tribe and EPA are entering the second five-year plan, and outlining the five major objectives was the topic of discussion.

President Begaye said, “We want to administer and have oversight on how these funds are expended. This would ensure that our Navajo people affected by uranium contamination will receive all funding and no pass through.”

Navajo EPA Director, Dr. Donald Benn, asked about the possibility of creating a Navajo Region.

“I understand EPA Region 9 also provides services and consultation to 150 other tribal nations,” he said. “We are a large nation and there is no comparison to a small tribe with only 400 members.

“Therefore, we need our own region,” he said.

Benn said the Navajo Nation wants decision-making authority for tribal members and to become more independent.

EPA presented information on the progress for abandoned uranium mines cleanup on the Navajo Nation from 2008 to 2016. Nine mines had emergency cleanup action taken for the provision of safe drinking water for 3,013 homes and remediation for protection of tribal members at 47 homes containing radioactive material.

During the 2008 to 2016 timeframe, EPA created safe jobs for Navajo workers and provided opportunities for Navajo businesses.

Vice President Nez said the Navajo Nation has a high unemployment rate and that one of the four pillars of the Begaye-Nez administration is job creation for our Navajo people.

“As we sit here, under formal consultation, we are expressing a great need for you to employ our Navajo people and Navajo-owned businesses to assist with this clean up process,” he said.

President Begaye said large national and international companies are asking the Navajo Nation to assist with the cleanup process.

“Their only concern is the money they will be earning through this deal. We must hire our own Navajo businesses to do this work because there is a sincere commitment to do this job correctly and safely for our people,” he said.

President Begaye and Vice-President Nez uged the EPA to work within the parameters of Navajo Preference Act provisions and employ Navajo people and Navajo businesses for the cleanup process. “keep the dollars on the Navajo Nation.”

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