Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez supports Grand Canyon Protection Act and ban on uranium mines
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez expressed support during a news conference Aug. 16. for the Grand Canyon Protection Act and the need for cleaning up the 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
Nez said the Grand Canyon Protection Act has bipartisan support. By more than a 4-1 margin, Arizona voters support the Grand Canyon Protection Act, a bill to permanently ban new uranium mines around the Grand Canyon
Two out of three Arizona voters support the bill, including large majorities of democrats and independents with more than twice as many republicans supporting the ban than opposing it. Only 15 percent of Arizona voters oppose the ban.
In calling for the cleanup of the mines on the Nation, Nez highlighted the Nation’s high rates of cancer. A cancer treatment center, the first of its kind on any reservation in America, opened in Tuba City in 2019.
Nez said by an overwhelming majority tribes do not want uranium mines on their homeland and the mines also destroyed sacred sites. The Navajo Nation Council banned uranium mining on the reservation years ago. While there have been no new mines in recent years, the cleanup of abandoned mines remains an ongoing concern.
Nez said the cleanup bill for one uranium mine in Utah was $5 million and he emphasized the cost of cleaning up the remaining 500 mines would be substantial.
Nez noted that EPA Director Michael Reagan recently visited one of the uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
“He didn’t know that he was standing on one of the sites. It’s only a stone’s throw away from the homes,” Nez said. “Cancers are prevalent in the area.”
He said the cleanup planned for Churchrock, New Mexico would move the uranium just one mile from the reservation boundary, and would be considered “off site.”
Nez said he didn’t believe anyone wants the uranium in their backyard.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva said it’s past time to ban uranium mining in the Grand Canyon Region and they can no longer let the industry set the rules. He said uranium mining is needed in some places, but not in others and the Grand Canyon Region is one area where it should not be allowed. He said uranium mines have done irreparable damage.
“That’s why the Grand Canyon Protection Act is so important,” he said. “At a time when everything feels so partisan, this is not that.”
The Grand Canyon Protection Act has passed the House, but has not passed the Senate yet.
Several of the speakers thanked U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema and U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran for supporting the Grand Canyon Protection Act.
Grijalva said the level of awareness about the problems with uranium mining has improved as people become more aware of the water issues. He said people are also concerned about the justice issue of uranium mining on reservations.
“We have an opportunity here,” he said and remains upbeat about the chances of the Grand Canyon Protection Act passing during this session of Congress.
Havasupai Tribal Leader Carletta Tilousi said it is good that other voices are joining Havasupai in its continuing role against uranium mines. She said the Havasupai have won some battles against uranium mining and faced some obstacles. She said the Havasupai remain persistent as tribes, states and the country become more aware of this issue.
“It has not been easy. We just want clean water and a place to live in peace. We shouldn’t have to beg for clean water,” she said.
Havasupai Tribal Councilman Stuart Chavez said the younger generation is taking on the fight of uranium mines.
Scott Garlid, Arizona Wildlife Federation director, said he is not anti-mining, but uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area does not make sense for either sportsmen, gardeners, conservatives or liberals.
He said the AWF members overwhelmingly support banning uranium because of the need to protect wildlife.
“Wildlife won’t know which waters are contaminated and they cannot read signs,” he said.
Garlid said uranium mines assure some level of contamination.
Amber Reimondo, Grand Canyon Trust energy director, said anyone who says the Grand Canyon regional is needed for uranium is exaggerating or saying it for self-serving purposes.
The news conference pointed to a recent poll, by research firm GQR that showed that Arizona voters strongly support a permanent ban on new uranium mines in or near the Grand Canyon.
A survey of 600 registered Arizona voters likely to participate in the upcoming general election found an overwhelming majority to support the permanent ban.
Those polled want to ban new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon to protect the water, tourism economy and public health, especially given the devastating impact of uranium mining on indigenous people.