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Navajos ban uranium mining, oppose federal subsidies

Corporate welfare: Congressmen Tom Udall joins Navajos opposing $30 million in federal uranium subsidies

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation Council passed a new law banning the mining and processing of uranium on the Navajo Nation, which if signed by President Joe Shirley Jr. will bring an end to the legacy of uranium mining death for Navajos.

Navajos have been the unknowing victims of government uranium mining since the time of the Cold War and now face new threats of uranium mining in the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation.

Aneth, Utah, Councilman Mark Maryboy told the council, ''It's very simple: uranium kills.''

Navajos celebrated the council's passage of the Dine Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005, which became law by a vote of 69 - 13. Then, Navajos immediately began intensifying their opposition to federal energy bill provisions that would subsidize uranium corporations with $30 million in incentives.

Anishinaabe activist Winona LaDuke applauded the effort.

''People worldwide are eternally grateful to the Navajo Nation for protecting future generations from more nuclear contamination, whether they are communities with nuclear reactors, or Native communities like Skull Valley Goshutes and Western Shoshone where nuclear waste dumps are planned.

''It is time for Native people to be part of the next energy era - wind and solar - those sources are in keeping with our relationship to Mother Earth and our responsibilities for future generation,'' LaDuke told Indian Country Today.

''Wind is the fastest growing energy source.''

Eastern Navajo Dineh Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), a group founded by local Navajos, urged other Navajos to call their congressmen and oppose the subsidies. ENDAUM said the $30 million could be funneled to Hydro Resources Inc., which is proposing in situ leach uranium mining which could poison Navajos' water supply in the Church Rock and Crownpoint, N.M. communities.

Even with uranium mining banned on the Navajo Nation, the company could carry out in situ leach mining on adjacent land already identified by the company and poison the aquifer and Navajo drinking water.

Citing the threat to Navajos' water supply, ENDAUM and the Southwest Research Information Center have challenged in court the license issued to HRI for in situ leach mining by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Navajos in Church Rock and Crownpoint have already been the victims of the nation's worst radioactive uranium spill in 1979 when a liquid uranium tailings dam was breached and 100 million gallons of radioactive liquid spilled into Navajo waterways.

U.S. Congressman Tom Udall, D-N.M., is among those opposing the uranium subsidies in the energy bill.

Udall said he is offering an amendment to House Bill 6 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to strike Section 631. He called the subsidies ''an unnecessary $30 million handout for the domestic uranium industry.''

Section 631 authorizes the appropriations of a $10 million subsidy for the next three fiscal years to ''identify, test and develop improved in situ leaching mining technologies, including low-cost environmental restoration technologies.''

''This corporate subsidy is both unnecessary and potentially environmentally dangerous,'' Udall said in a letter to fellow congressmen, urging their support and vote. ''This corporate welfare also will have a severe impact on the Southwest's environment and on the public health of the Native American communities I represent.''

Udall said the in situ leach mining procedure can cause radioactive uranium and other toxic chemicals to leach into groundwater and is a threat to public health. He said in a ''time of skyrocketing federal deficits,'' Congress should not give away $30 million to the uranium industry.

''We need a comprehensive national energy policy that safely provides new energy sources without drastically harming the environment and causing potential harm to thousands,'' Udall said.

ENDAUM co-founder Mitchell Capitan told the United Nations that Navajos with little means have maintained the costly struggle of opposition to new uranium mining because of their deep belief in the sanctity of water.

'''Water is life' is not just a political slogan - it's a description of some of the fundamental principles we live by every day. Water is used in our religious ceremonies, just like it is used in the ceremonies of the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths. It is essential to our survival in an arid climate,'' Capitan told the United Nations' 57th Annual Department of Public Information Conference in September 2004.

Capitan said the community's water is pure and sweet and comes from the Westwater Canyon Aquifer beneath Church Rock and Crownpoint.

Further, Navajos were used by the federal government to mine uranium during the Cold War without protective clothing or masks, and were never told of the dangers of radioactivity. In communities such as Cove, Ariz., it is suspected that at least one member of every Navajo family died from lung cancer and other diseases resulting from uranium mining. Although the federal Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was designed to financially compensate victims, many Navajo miners died before funds were released.

''Of course they used us as guinea pigs, all in the name of national defense,'' Gilbert Badoni told Indian Country Today. As a child, Badoni lived in a uranium mining camp where his father worked in southwestern Colorado.

Badoni's father died of cancer and his mother, brothers and sister all developed cancer. Now, radioactive rocks remain in Badoni's backyard in Cudeii near Shiprock, N.M. among the rocks and tailings left behind by a uranium industry that never cleaned up after the Cold War.

Meanwhile, Taxpayers for Common Sense Action joined ENDAUM and Udall in opposition to the corporate uranium subsidies.

''The 50-year-old nuclear industry has benefited from cradle-to-grave subsidization for too long,'' cofounder Jill Lancelot said in a statement.

''These subsidies distort price signals and undermine the natural market forces of the energy industry. This $89 billion energy bill is ballooning in cost, and at a time of unprecedented deficits it is the taxpayers of the next generation that will foot the bill.''

Editorial Notes: Indian Country Today identifies itself as "The Nations' Leading American Indian News Source." -BA

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