Navajo anti-uranium group challenges HRI Churchrock state discharge permit
The 24-year battle between the anti-uranium mining groups and Hydro Resources over a New Mexico in-situ uranium project now involves accusations that a state agency mishandled a discharge permit.
Posted: Tuesday , 19 Jul 2011
RENO, NV -
Undeterred by court decisions upholding the state of New Mexico's right to regulate Hydro Resources Churchrock Section 8 in-situ uranium project, the Eastern Navajo Diné against Uranium Mining and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center have filed a complaint with the First Judicial Court in Santa Fe.
The filing asserts that the New Mexico Environment Department bypassed the normal regulatory process by allowing HRI to conduct mining activities before the state agency made a decision on the company's discharge permit application.
The plaintiffs argue that the New Mexico Environment Department does not have the authority to accept HRI's discharge permit application as a permit renewal under the Water Quality Act, which provides that the agency may issue a discharge permit for no longer than seven years. The permit was originally approved in 1989 and renewed in 1996.
The Eastern Navajo Diné against Uranium Mining contends the permit expired in 2003 although the New Mexico Environment Department still consider HRI to have a valid permit. Last month, HRI CEO Don Ewigleben said the fact the NMED confirmed HRI's discharge plan for an underground injection control permit "supports our belief that we followed proper procedures and abided by all the rules and regulations of the NMED."
"New Mexico has the largest identified uranium resource base in the U.S. and our 101.4 million pounds of in-place mineralized uranium material is among the largest quantifies owned by any one company in the state," he added.
URI also holds a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license, "which combined with the discharge plan enables URI to move closer toward production using in situ recovery on its Churchrock Section 8 project where there are 6.5 million pounds of in-lace mineralized uranium material," the company said.
URI has 193,000 acres of mineral holdings in New Mexico and 101.4 million pounds of in-place mineralized uranium material. Thirty million pounds of that material can be extracted under the company NRC Source Materials License.
Nevertheless, New Mexico Environmental Law Center staff attorney, Eric Jantz, contends, "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."
"Rather than playing by the rules, the rules are being played," he asserted.
Hydro Resources has been battling over the right to mine at Churchrock for 24 years. The 10th Circuit of Appeals ruled a year ago that the Churchrock project was not on Indian land, nor on federal land, and therefore, is not under federal jurisdiction.
Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley recently issued a proclamation for Uranium Legacy Remembrance and Action Day, which commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the Church Rock Uranium Tailings Spill and 60 years of uranium impacts in Navajo Country. The Navajo enacted the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005, banning uranium mining and processing on Navajo lands until the impacts have been addressed.
The July 16, 1979, earthen dam rupture at the United Nuclear Corporation uranium mill tailings facility released 1,100 tons of radioactive tailings and 94 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Puerco River, reportedly contaminating the river for at least 80 miles. It impacted five communities in New Mexico and four areas in Arizona.
The Navajo Nation has asked the U.S. Congress to appropriate $500 million to help remediate and restore more than 500 uranium mining sites, homes contaminated by mine wastes, and water sources polluted by uranium.
In their proclamation, the Navajo Nation urged the federal government to implement and enforce the nation's ban on uranium mining and processing in Navajo Country, and allow the Navajo to take a direct role technically and legally in the permitting of the proposed HRI Crownpoint Uranium Solution Mining Project.
The Navajo Nation also request the federal government develop "a comprehensive solution to mine reclamation and disposal of mine wastes in the Church Rock area."
The proclamation also urges the federal government to expand funding for health studies studying the effects of uranium exposure on the health of children to the elderly.