UC Regents Challenge NMED's Authority
Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (or ENDAUM) scored a victory recently when New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman helped to remove a provision from the Senate energy bill which would provide $30 million in funding to research of in-situ leach (or ISL) mining of uranium in the Crownpoint and Churchrock area. Eric Jantz, of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, who is representing ENDAUM in a case before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said, "[Senator Bingaman] has demonstrated that at least some federal officials take the United States' trust responsibilities to native communities seriously."
ISL uranium mining is a process by which alkaline solution is injected into the aquifer to dissolve surrounding uranium. The alkaline and uranium solution is then pumped to the surface, where the uranium is collected. The wastewater is then reinjected into the aquifer. However, due to the questionable history of ISL mining, ENDAUM and their co-intervenor, Southwest Research and Information Center, are concerned that the process will contaminate their sole-source aquifer. The aquifer serves 15,000 people in an area that has been adversely affected by uranium mining for many years.
Although Churchrock and Crownpoint are not in her district, Representative Heather Wilson introduced a similar provision to the House energy bill. Activists believe that Wilson introduced the provision in order to enable a possible recipient of the research funding, HydroResources, Inc (or HRI), to remain operational. HRI, located in Albuquerque, is rumored to be in financial straits currently.
The Environmental Law Center hopes that Senator Bingaman will continue his opposition to Representative Wilson's provision in conference committee, and praises the steps he has taken so far. In a thank you letter to Bingaman, Jantz said, "By taking a stand against special interests, you have insured that the people of Crownpoint and Churchrock will be able to continue their resistance to unsafe and unneeded uranium mining projects in their communities."
The University of California Regents, who oversee management and operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory (or LANL) re-asserted their challenge this week to the finding released by the New Mexico Environment Department (or NMED) in May. The finding stated that "past or present storage, treatment or disposal of hazardous and solid waste at [LANL] may result in an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment." The finding lead to a draft Corrective Action Order, which requires LANL to complete a thorough investigation of known and as yet unknown contaminated sites in and around LANL.
The Regents' amended complaint, which was filed in Santa Fe's federal district court, says that NMED has no legal grounding for their finding. In a press release, the Regents defend LANL's environmental record by saying, "Every member of [LANL's] work force resides in the region and works diligently to ensure that nothing done at [LANL] could harm a neighbor or family member." Despite LANL's diligent efforts, cleanup at LANL is expected to take 40 years and cost as much as $3 billion.
The Regents have asked the court to issue temporary, preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to prevent NMED from finalizing the draft Corrective Action Order.
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