Uranium remediation committee proposed
WINDOW ROCK - The Resources and Development Committee (RDC) Feb. 24, unanimously supported a bill sponsored by Council Delegate Jonathan Perry (Becenti, Crownpoint, Huerfano, Lake Valley, Nageezi, Nahodishgish, Tse'ii'ahi, Whiterock) that seeks to establish a Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission.
If approved by the Navajo Nation Council, the commission would study and draw conclusions about the impacts of uranium mining and uranium processing on the Navajo Nation and issue recommendations for policies, laws, and regulations to the president and the council.
"As you know, the Navajo Nation has a history of uranium mining in various areas which includes New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah," Perry said. "A lot of these operations happened without any clean-up after the mining."
The proposed plan would allow the president to 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.
Six of the community members would represent six different regions affected by past uranium mining and the seventh member would be selected as an at-large community representative.
Perry previously noted that uranium development for military use dating back to the 1940's, left more than 500 abandoned uranium mines, mills, and processing plants many near homes and livestock grazing areas, which has led to an unspecified number of health issues.
Executive Director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Stephen B. Etsitty joined Perry before the RDC and said one of the primary goals of the commission will be to consult with community members to find out how they want to resolve uranium issues within their own communities.
"We feel it's important to have communities express their voice and have recommendations come forth," Etsitty said.
Etsitty said the commission developed out of a task force created in 2012 under the Office of the President and Vice President, which met with several entities for an 18-month period to develop ideas to address uranium issues.
During that time period, one of the major challenges was trying to find a balance between western scientific methods and traditional environmental knowledge when looking for solutions, according to Etsitty.
"Many of our people are still very in tune to our own ceremonies and own upbringing, and understandings of Diné Bikéyah and how we relate to each other and to our surroundings," Etsitty added.
Perry also said community comment is key to solving uranium issues, particularly from Navajo people who live near uranium sites and know the impacts very well.
The legislation now moves forward to the Naabik'iyátí' Committee for consideration.
On Feb. 17, the Law and Order Committee moved the bill forward with a "Do Pass" recommendation with no amendments. The Navajo Nation Council serves as the final authority.