Navajo Nation Council blocks proposed uranium mining in Churchrock, New Mexico
WINDOW ROCK - On the second day of the summer council session, the Navajo Nation Council repealed a resolution passed by the Resources and Development Committee (RDC) last December which allowed Uranium Resources, Inc. (URI) right-of-way and surface use for a uranium mining project in the community of Churchrock, N.M.
Legislation sponsor Council Delegate Edmund Yazzie (Churchrock, Iyanbito, Mariano Lake, Pinedale, Smith Lake, Thoreau), who represents the Churchrock community, asked the council to prevent URI from developing its in situ uranium recovery project.
Yazzie referenced the Diné Natural Resources Protection Act of 2005 and the Radioactive Materials Transportation Act of 2012. He said the two laws prohibit the proposed project from being developed on the Navajo Nation.
"We need to follow the regulations," Yazzie said. "The regulations are [in place] to look out for our people."
Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie (Baca/Prewitt, Casamero Lake, Counselor, Littlewater, Ojo Encino, Pueblo Pintado, Torreon, Whitehorse Lake), who sponsored the legislation passed by the RDC in December, said the Radioactive Materials Transportation Act does not specifically address the transportation of uranium.
"I would understand your argument if the law had said 'thou shall not transport uranium'- it doesn't say that," Tsosie said. "At the moment, there is no physical transporting of uranium so there's no physical act being done as of today to transport uranium."
Council Delegate Jonathan Nez (Shonto, Navajo Mountain, Oljato, Ts'ah Bii Kin) said he supports the overwhelming number of young Navajo people who have spoken out against the proposed project and against uranium mining in general.
"By nullifying this [resolution] we are saying 'no' to any future uranium exploration on the Navajo Nation," Nez said. "We need to all take a stand once again, to those major industries and companies throughout the globe and stay steadfast and say no more, enough is enough."
Council Delegate Katherine Benally (Chilchinbeto, Dennehotso, Kayenta) also stated her opposition, while emphasizing her stance against uranium mining.
"I am absolutely against uranium development of any kind because I am from the community of Dennehotso which mined uranium in the (1940's and 50's) so I have seen the consequences to this day," Benally said.
Council Delegate Leonard H. Pete (Chinle) cautioned his council colleagues of the possible consequences if the situation ends up in litigation because of the nullification.
"Have we really sat down and looked into the consequences?" Pete asked. "Somewhere along the way, the wisdom of this council, the common sense of this council, the foresight of this council is going to be tested."
After a two-hour discussion, members of the council approved Legislation No. 0091-14 with a 18-3 vote.
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