Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–May 1, 2015. In a settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation, the U.S. will place $13.2 million into an environmental response trust to pay for the evaluations of 16 priority abandoned uranium mines located across Navajo lands. The investigation of these sites is a necessary step before final cleanup decisions can be made. The work to be conducted is subject to the approval of the Navajo Nation as the lead agency and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the supporting agency.
“This agreement is part of the Justice Department’s increased focus on environmental and health concerns in Indian country as well as the commitment of the Obama Administration to fairly resolve the historic grievances of American Indian tribes and build a healthier future for their people,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The site evaluations focus on the mines that pose the most significant hazards and will form a foundation for their final cleanup. In partnership with our sister federal agencies, we will also continue our work to address the legacy of uranium mining on Navajo lands, including ongoing discussions with the Navajo Nation.”
“EPA is proud to help implement this historic settlement,” said Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld for EPA for the Pacific Southwest. “It dovetails with our ongoing activities as we work together to make real progress on the environmental legacy of uranium mining on the Navajo Nation.”
The Navajo Nation encompasses more than 27,000 square miles within Utah, New Mexico and Arizona in the Four Corners area. The unique geology of the region makes the Navajo Nation rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II. Approximately four million tons of uranium ore were extracted during mining operations within the Navajo Nation from 1944 to 1986. The federal government, through the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), was the sole purchaser of uranium until 1966, when commercial sales of uranium began. The AEC continued to purchase ore until 1970. The last uranium mine on the Navajo Nation shut down in 1986. Many Navajo people worked in and near the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills.
Since 2008, a number of federal agencies including EPA, the Department of Energy, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Indian Health Service have been collaborating to address uranium contamination on the Navajo Nation. The federal government has invested more than $100 million to address abandoned uranium mines on Navajo lands. EPA has remediated 34 homes, provided safe drinking water to 1,825 families, conducted field screening at 521 mines, compiled a list of 46 “priority mines” for cleanup and performed stabilization or cleanup work at nine mines. This settlement agreement resolves the claims of the Navajo Nation pertaining to costs of evaluations at 16 of the 46 priority mines for which no viable responsible private party has been identified.
In April 2014, the Justice Department and EPA announced in a separate matter that approximately $985 million of a multi-billion dollar settlement of litigation against subsidiaries of Anadarko Petroleum Corp. will be paid to EPA to fund the clean-up of approximately 50 abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation, where radioactive waste remains from Kerr-McGee mining operations.