Law and Order Committee approves legislation concerning uranium and transportation needs

WINDOW ROCK - Members of the Law and Order Committee (LOC) approved legislation Feb. 18 to create the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission.

If approved by the Navajo Nation Council, bill sponsor LOC member Council Delegate Jonathan Perry (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse'ii'ahi, Whiterock) said the commission's purpose would be to study and reach conclusions about the impacts of uranium mining and uranium processing on the Navajo Nation and to issue recommendations for policies, laws, and regulations.

The Navajo Nation needs uranium clean-up solutions, which are lacking at the national and international levels as well, Perry said.

According to the proposed plan of operation, the Navajo Nation president would appoint an executive director to be confirmed by the council. The commission's membership would consist of three technical experts, seven community members and one youth member.

Uranium development for military use dating back to the 1940's, has left over 500 abandoned uranium mines, mills, and processing plants - many near homes and livestock grazing areas - and has led to an unspecified number of health issues added Perry.

LOC member Council Delegate Otto Tso (Tó Nanees Dizi) said he has witnessed firsthand the impacts of abandoned uranium mines on his livestock.

"I live within three-miles of a uranium site and when it rains I've seen sheep fall into abandoned uranium shafts," Tso said.

At the conclusion of the discussion, LOC members approved the legislation with a vote of 4-0. The bill now moves forward to the Resources and Development Committee for further consideration.

LOC members also approved legislation sponsored by Council Delegate Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs, St. Michaels) seeking the establishment of a Navajo Transit System Fund to provide a portion of Fuel Excise Tax net revenue to be used for the needs and expansion of the Navajo Transit System.

Hale said 10 percent of the net revenue would be allocated for public transportation operations, and the remaining 90 percent would continue to be deposited into the Nation's Road Fund.

The Navajo Nation's Fuel Excise Tax revenue is generated from a tax imposed on distributors and retailers who import gasoline for sale on the Navajo Nation. Currently, the taxation rate is 18 cents per-gallon of gasoline and 25 cents per-gallon for diesel fuel.

Division of General Services director Virgil Brown, Jr. said the Navajo Nation's public bus service has seen an increase of more than 400 percent in number of passengers since 2008. He also noted that the division received a federal grant to purchase an electric bus that requires additional funding to begin fully operating, which will eventually cut fuel costs.

In a memo dated Sept. 17, 2014, Brown also said establishing the Navajo Transit System Fund would allow the division to pursue additional outside funding sources, which often require matching funds.

LOC member Council Delegate Raymond Smith, Jr. (Houck, Klagetoh, Nahata Dziil, Tsé Si áni, Wide Ruins) asked Brown to consider expanding bus services in the communities of Houck, Nahata Dziil, and Wide Ruins.

"These communities have many students who attend classes in Gallup and a route from those communities to Gallup would assist many Navajo students," Smith said.

Hale added that the funds would allow the division to expand its transit routes which are often unable to accommodate individuals due to the growing demand.

LOC members voted 4-0 to approve the legislation. The Navajo Nation Council is the final authority for the bill.

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