Navajos Urge Ban On Mining
By Michael Coleman, Albuquerque Journall
Washington Bureau, MARCH 13, 2008
WASHINGTON— Navajo Nation President
Joe Shirley on Wednesday urged Congress to ban any new
uranium mining on or near Navajo land.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources
Committee, chaired by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico
Democrat, took up the issue of uranium mining, as well
as a pending rewrite of laws regulating hard rock mining
and the cleanup and reclamation of abandoned mines across
the United States.
Shirley told the panel that the Navajo
Nation has suffered pervasive illness and death because
of Cold War-era uranium mining. He is worried that a
surging interest in nuclear power will lure more uranium
mining companies to the area.
Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican
and staunch advocate of nuclear power, suggested that
technology could allay those concerns.
"Much has changed since the Cold
War," Domenici, the top Republican on the committee,
said during the hearing.
"Uranium mining in the future will
be very different than uranium mining in the past,"
he said. "Our job is to get the real facts for
the Navajo people, not the facts from the Cold War."
Shirley wasn't buying that argument.
"Why should we believe these companies
now when this industry failed to clean up the toxic
mess they left behind the first time?" Shirley
Bingaman and Domenici have both
said they respect the Navajos' desire to keep uranium
mining off their land, but neither has been willing to
commit to opposing new uranium mines near it.
Shirley contends even mining near the
reservation could have adverse effects on Indian land.
Wednesday's hearing also focused
on more than 160,000 abandoned mines that have been identified
across the United States. About 30,000 of those are believed
to pose environmental risks, according to the committee.
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is pushing for a federal moratorium
on uranium mining on or near Navajo land.
Bill Brancard of the New Mexico
Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department told
the panel there are roughly 15,000 abandoned mine hazards
in New Mexico.
"These abandoned mines pose serious
health and safety risks," Bingaman said during
the hearing. "They also degrade our environment
and pose special threats to our most precious resource:
Congress is trying to rewrite a 136-year
old federal mining law in a way that allows the federal
government to capture royalties from mining on federal
Unlike oil and gas leases on federal
land, the government collects no royalties from mining
operations under existing law.
proposals in Congress would earmark a significant portion
of new mining royalties for abandoned mine cleanup.