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Uranium miners keen to pollute Navajo land even more in the Grand Canyon

Uranium Miners Pushed Hard for a Comeback. They Got Their Wish. NYT, MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah — Garry Holiday grew up among the abandoned mines that dot the Navajo Nation’s red landscape, remnants of a time when uranium helped cement America’s status as a nuclear superpower and fueled its nuclear energy program.

It left a toxic legacy. All but a few of the 500 abandoned mines still await cleanup. Mining tainted the local groundwater. Mr. Holiday’s father succumbed to respiratory disease after years of hacking the ore from the earth.

But now, emboldened by the Trump administration’s embrace of corporate interests, the uranium mining industry is renewing a push into the areas adjacent to Mr. Holiday’s Navajo Nation home: the Grand Canyon watershed to the west, where a new uranium mine is preparing to open, and the Bears Ears National Monument to the north.

The Trump administration is set to shrink Bears Ears by 85 percent next month, potentially opening more than a million acres to mining, drilling and other industrial activity. But even as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declared last month that “there is no mine within Bears Ears,” there were more than 300 uranium mining claims inside the monument, according to data from Utah’s Bureau of Land Management office that was reviewed by The New York Times.

The vast majority of those claims fall neatly outside the new boundaries of Bears Ears set by the administration. And an examination of local B.L.M. records, including those not yet entered into the agency’s land and mineral use authorizations database, shows that about a third of the claims are linked to Energy Fuels, a Canadian uranium producer. Energy Fuels also owns the Grand Canyon mine, where groundwater has already flooded the main shaft.

Energy Fuels, together with other mining groups, lobbied extensively for a reduction of Bears Ears, preparing maps that marked the areas it wanted removed from the monument and distributing them during a visit to the monument by Mr. Zinke in May.

Energy Fuels’ lobbying campaign, elements of which were first reported by The Washington Post, is part of a wider effort by the long-ailing uranium industry to make a comeback.

The Uranium Producers of America, an industry group, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw regulations proposed by the Obama administration to strengthen groundwater protections at uranium mines. Mining groups have also waged a six-year legal battle against a moratorium on new uranium mining on more than a million acres of land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.

For the Navajo, the drive for new mines is a painful flashback.

“Back then, we didn’t know it was dangerous — nobody told us,” Mr. Holiday said, as he pointed to the gashes of discolored rocks that mark where the old uranium mines cut into the region’s mesas. “Now they know. They know.”

Supporters of the mining say that a revival of domestic uranium production, which has declined by 90 percent since 1980 amid slumping prices and foreign competition, will make the United States a larger player in the global uranium market.

It would expand the country’s energy independence, they say, and give a lift to nuclear power, still a pillar of carbon-free power generation. Canada, Kazakhstan, Australia, Russia and a few other countries now supply most of America’s nuclear fuel.

……….President Trump has prioritized scrapping environmental regulations to help revitalize domestic energy production. His executive order instructing Mr. Zinke to review Bears Ears said that improper monument designations could “create barriers to achieving energy independence.”

In theory, even after President Barack Obama established Bears Ears in 2016, mining companies could have developed any of the claims within it, given proper local approvals. But companies say that expanding the sites, or even building roads to access them, would have required special permits, driving up costs.

……….
A bill introduced last month by Representative John Curtis
, Republican of Utah, would codify Mr. Trump’s cuts to the monument while banning further drilling or mining within the original boundaries. But environmental groups say the bill has little chance of passing at all, let alone before the monument is scaled back next month.

“Come February, anyone can place a mining claim on the land,” said Greg Zimmerman, deputy director at the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group.

………Fred Tillman, an environmental engineer with the United States Geological Survey, said during a recent visit to the mine that the groundwater flows in the region were too complex to rule out the risk of contamination.

“There are these big unknowns about the potential impacts on cultural resources, on biological resources, on water resources,” Dr. Tillman said.

A senator steps in   Even as troubles persist on the ground, the industry pushback has continued.

In court, mining groups led by the National Mining Association have challenged a 20-year moratorium on mining in the Grand Canyon watershed, established in 2012 by the Obama administration. (The Canyon Mine predates the moratorium.)

A federal court of appeals upheld the moratorium last month. But the United States Forest Service has recommended rolling back the protections, meaning the Trump administration could soon reverse them on its own.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, which represents mining interests, also backed an effort to defeat a separate proposal that would have permanently banned mining on 1.7 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon. An Energy Fuels executive testified in Congress against the ban.

And with the help of Republican senators like John Barrasso of Wyoming, the industry has pressed the E.P.A. to withdraw an Obama-era proposalthat would strengthen groundwater protections at uranium mines.

Senator Barrasso has received more than $350,000 in campaign contributions from mining groups over his career. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

The proposal would regulate a mining method called in-situ recovery, which involves injecting a solution into aquifers containing uranium and bringing that solution to the surface for processing — a method criticized by environmentalists as posing wider contamination risks.

……..A town still struggles https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/climate/trump-uranium-bears-ears.html

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January 15, 2018 - Posted by | environment, indigenous issues, politics, USA

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