Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12,000 New Mexicans Ask Gov. Susana Martinez to Protect the Pit Rule

From the SouthWest Organizing Project:
Groups and Community Activists Hold Press Conference in Albuquerque Thursday to discuss 12,000 New Mexico petitions in support of our strong Pit Rule; Petitions delivered to Gov. Susana Martinez in Santa Fe

In September, the Chile Lovers of New Mexico delivered a petition composed of over 10,000 signatures from New Mexicans in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Rio Rancho in support of protecting New Mexico’s landmark Pit Rule to Governor Susana Martinez. Since then, an additional 3,000 New Mexicans from our rural communities have spoken up in support of a strong Pit Rule.

The Pit Rule is an important safeguard that protects our land and groundwater from oil and gas industry waste. Currently, Martinez’s Oil Conservation Commission is considering dismantling the Pit Rule in ways that will hinder its ability to protect the land and water that sustains all New Mexicans.

The commission has delayed making a final decision several times, and is set to reconvene in January. Supporters of a strong Pit Rule are asking Governor Susana Martinez to not change the rule by adopting amendments proposed by the oil and gas industry.

Who: New Mexicans in support of protecting the Pit Rule and our groundwater
What: Press conference
When: Noon, Thursday, Dec. 13
Where: Washington Park at Park and 10th Streets, Albuquerque

What: Petition delivery in Santa Fe
When: 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13
Where: Gov. Martinez’s office, Santa Fe

The Chile Lovers of New Mexico is a collaboration between the Southwest Organizing Project and the Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund.

The Pit Rule is a law that protects New Mexico’s land and water by ensuring that industries properly line their waste pits to prevent contamination. Before the law was enacted in 2008, there were over 400 known cases of groundwater contamination that could be linked directly to poorly maintained oil and gas industry waste pits. Since then, there have been zero known cases.

December 12, 2012 at 04:19 PM in Action Alerts, Environment, Mining, Susana Martinez | Permalink | Comments (3)

Udall, Grijalva Highlight Taxpayer Losses, Lack of Needed Data Revealed in New Oil and Mining Report

Press release from Senator Udall's office:

A report released this morning by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), originally requested by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), describes glaring shortfalls in the data publicly available on hardrock minerals and highlights lost revenue from extraction on federal lands.

In 2011, Udall and Grijalva requested the report from GAO to identify the amount and estimated dollar values of minerals extracted from federal land. The report examined available data on minerals extracted from land administered by the Department of Interior, which includes 700 million acres of federal land, 57 million acres of Indian lands, and 1.8 billion acres below offshore water. The full report is available here.

In its report, GAO concluded it could not estimate the available data on the amounts, types or values of so-called locatable minerals – such as gold, silver, copper and uranium – that are mined from federal lands each year because the 1872 Mining Law provides no royalties for the public. The law, which still governs hardrock mineral extraction, does not require mining companies to disclose how much they extract, where such minerals are sold or what the overall value of each mining operation is, even for multi-billion-dollar mining operations conducted on federal land.

"This report confirms what we've been saying all along – that we need to reform the mining law of 1872," Udall said. "Hardrock minerals are natural resources that belong to the American people, and we need to make sure we are getting the best return on what should be an investment – not a giveaway."

The report also details the value of minerals – including oil, natural gas, and coal – that are subject to lease and administered by the federal Office of Natural Resource Revenue. Although royalties are paid on these minerals, the report details a discrepancy between the amounts actually paid in royalties – which GAO calls the effective royalty rate – and the rates set out in existing law.

“We’ve been hearing from conservatives that we need fewer hours at national parks, less reclamation of valuable lands, fewer services for park visitors and a whole gamut of supposedly necessary cutbacks,” said Grijalva, the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “Well, now we know we’ve been leaving a huge pot of money on the table that could change all that. There’s no reason to keep these extraction and royalty laws out of date. At the very least we need disclosure so American taxpayers know what is being taken from their lands. Keeping the public and Congress in the dark any longer about what’s going on with federal property doesn’t serve any public purpose, and it should end."

“There’s a simple legislative fix for this big hole in the federal government’s revenue stream, and it’s only fair that companies benefiting from access to public lands pay their fair share,” Grijalva added. “The Department of Interior should continue to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and Congress should make sure disclosure a priority, and then we can talk about how to make sure the American people financially benefit from the sale of public minerals the way they should have been all along.”

Grijalva is a cosponsor of H.R. 3446, formally known as the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act, which would set a 12.5 percent royalty rate on hardrock minerals. He has said he looks forward to supporting and strengthening an updated version in the upcoming Congress.

"I hope this report can be a catalyst for discussion about reform, but at a minimum it shows we need better disclosure on extraction of our natural resources," Udall said. "Both parties want to solve our economic challenges and make government more efficient for the taxpayers – here's an opportunity to do both. We should be able come together on this issue, and I look forward to making that case to my colleagues in the next Congress."

Udall is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works.

December 12, 2012 at 10:25 AM in Environment, Mining, Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

11/15: Pit Rule Update from SWOP

From SouthWest Organizing Project

Pit Rule Update

The Oil Conservation Commission is scheduled to meet today- Thursday 11/15/12 at 9:00 AM in Santa Fe. They are finishing up deliberations and expected to make a final decision on changes to the Pit Rule requested by groups representing the oil and gas industry. Their decision could weaken the rule which would have dire effects on the environment and public health in New Mexico.

The pit rule requires oil and gas companies to line their pits of toxic waste.Before the the pit rule, New Mexico had thousands of cases of groundwater contamination from oil and gas pits but since the pit rule has been in place there have been no cases of contamination at sites covered by the rule.

The pit rule holds oil and gas companies accountable making them pay for cleaning up contamination from pits instead of using taxpayer money.

That is why we are having a Pit Rule Forum today at 6:30 @ the SWOP office.

WHAT: Pit Rule Forum
WHEN: Thursday, November 15th @ 6:30 PM
WHERE: SWOP Offices 211 10th St. SW
We will be discussing the results of the hearing and writing letters to the editor in response to this important issue. Please join us. Food and refreshments will be provided. Translation will be available. Contact: Dustin 505-204-0023

November 15, 2012 at 10:13 AM in Action Alerts, Mining, Regulation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Senator Udall: Contaminated Laguna Mine Proposed for ‘Superfund’ Cleanup Status

Jackpile laguna mine
Jackpile Mine photo above by: landarts.org

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, issued a statement on Tuesday, March 13th following the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to list the Jackpile-Paguate Uranium Mine in Cibola County to the National List of Priorities of Superfund sites.

Udall, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has been urging the EPA to expedite the cleanup of uranium contamination on Tribal lands in New Mexico.
Udall said:
“Today EPA is getting serious about the uranium contamination cleanup that the Pueblo of Laguna has long recognized as vital.
“I convened a Senate Subcommittee hearing last fall to urge the federal government to move quickly to halt ongoing water and soil contamination at the Jackpile site and other abandoned uranium mines on Tribal lands and elsewhere in our state.
“I trust EPA will work closely with the pueblo, and I will be monitoring these efforts closely in the months and years ahead.”
EPA has been investigating the Jackpile-Paguate mine site on Laguna Pueblo land to determine the extent of the ongoing contamination. Once a site is proposed for listing, EPA solicits community comment and responds to concerns raised. After the comment period is over, and if the site still qualifies for Superfund cleanup, EPA will make its proposed listing final.
Superfund status is given to the most complex, uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites in the nation.

March 15, 2012 at 12:20 PM in Environment, Mining, Native Americans, Sen. Tom Udall | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Udall Holds Oversight Hearing on Federal Efforts to Clean Up Uranium Contamination

Udall U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Children’s Health and Environmental Responsibility, held an oversight hearing yesterday on the status of cleanup operations at legacy uranium mining and milling operations in New Mexico and elsewhere in the United States. Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) testified before the subcommittee about federal cleanup efforts.

During World War II and the Cold War, the federal government relied on extensive uranium prospecting and development throughout the country and especially in uranium-rich areas of the southwest. The uranium industry emerged overnight, at a time of minimal understanding or protection for individuals and the environment. The resulting radiological contamination created a legacy of sickness and pollution, a statement released about the hearing explained.

“The story of uranium development in the United States is a human story, and a tragic human story,” Udall said. “Even as the understanding of the dangers grew, the federal government failed to ensure that uranium workers and their families were safe from the hazards of exposure to radioactive materials.”

Navajo communities have seen some of the worst contamination. One of the most catastrophic examples, the collapse of the United Nuclear Corporation uranium mill tailings facility near Church Rock, NM, ranks as the largest accidental radiation release in U.S. history.

After Congressional hearings began to shine a light on the radiological contamination decades later, EPA, other agencies, and responsible private sector companies undertook the process of cleaning up thousands of abandoned uranium mines, and numerous mill and mine sites. Much work remains to be done.

Testimony: 3 Federal Officials
Udall questioned three key officials from different federal agencies about their commitment to continuing cleanup operations. All three pledged future support and acknowledged that significant work remains. Video of that questioning is available by clicking here.

“The Department of Energy established the Office of Legacy Management in 2003, with the express purpose of having a long-term, sustainable management of closed sites,” said David Geiser, director of DOE’s Office of Legacy Management. “So today we have 87 sites around the country that Legacy Management is responsible for…The Department set up the office explicitly for that long-term purpose.”

Udall stressed that each agency continue the ongoing cleanup projects and commit to providing necessary funding, especially for the Five-Year Plans for the Navajo Nation and the Grants Mining District.

“EPA has led the development and implementation of a coordinated federal plan to address the uranium legacy on the Navajo Nation,” said James Woolford, director of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo EPA, and, since 1994, EPA has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop and implement response actions.”

Woolford reported that the EPA spends $12 million annually for cleanup efforts on the Navajo Nation, in addition to $4 million annually from DOE and a $5 million special appropriation for reclamation of a contaminated site near Tuba City, AZ. Udall commended the EPA for its recently announced plan to clean up the Northeast Church Rock site, the largest abandoned mine on the Navajo Nation and highest risk site in New Mexico, but sought further details on how that plan would be implemented.

Regulating Future Uranium Mining
The hearing also focused on proposed future uranium mining operations. Udall pressed the EPA and NRC, which jointly regulate these kinds of operations, to ensure that new uranium mining does not lead to future contamination. Many communities with legacy contamination are still waiting for cleanup while new mining is being proposed at, or near, the same sites.

“While cleanup is moving decades after the initial contamination, some of these communities are faced with new proposals to re-start uranium mining for energy purposes, opening up old wounds, and arousing new passions,” said Udall. Michael Weber, deputy executive director for the NRC’s Materials, Waste, Research, State, Tribal, and Compliance Programs addressed the regulation of new mining operations.

“The NRC’s comprehensive regulatory framework ensures safe operation and decommissioning of the existing facilities, as well as any planned facilities. The Agency’s standards conform to standards promulgated by EPA,” said Weber. “After a license is issued for a new uranium recovery facility, the NRC or Agreement State provides continued oversight of the operations through periodic licensing reviews, inspections, assessment, enforcement, and investigations.”

Concerns on Proposed Mine Near Crownpoint
Pressing the NRC on their commitment to ensure safe operation and decommissioning of existing and new uranium processing facilities, Udall raised concerns about a proposal for a new NRC-regulated mine near the community of Crownpoint. In response, the NRC testified that the “unique” requirements of the permit and the regulations in place would ensure a continued and safe drinking water supply for the community of Crownpoint should the proposed mining goes forward.

Working Together
Udall urged federal agencies to prioritize existing cleanup operations and to continue to work together, coordinating with state and tribal governments, to assist communities that have been impacted by uranium contamination. In response, the three federal agencies committed to further public involvement as cleanup plans continue.

October 7, 2011 at 12:42 AM in Mining, Native Americans, Regulation, Sen. Tom Udall, Uranium | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, August 12, 2011

8/12: Screening of 'Gasland' at KiMo in Albuquerque

Section_2_article_7The Academy Award nominated documenty, Gasland, will be screened on Friday, August 12, at 8:00 PM at the KiMo Theater located at 423 Central Ave. NW in Albuquerque. All ages, tickets $7 - $10. You can get your tickets here.

When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND.

Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown." (2010)

August 12, 2011 at 09:14 AM in Energy, Environment, Events, Film, Mining | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Navajo's Take Fight To Protect Water to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

On Friday, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) and its client, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM), filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking to halt a uranium mining operation in the Navajo villages of Church Rock and Crownpoint, NM. They will conduct a press conference today, Monday, May 16, at 8:30 AM at the National Press Club in Washington, DC regarding the filing.

After 16 years of legal fighting, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center has exhausted all avenues offered by the U.S. legal system to overturn the mining license granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to Hydro Resources Inc. (HRI). Should HRI be allowed to mine, the drinking water for approximately 15,000 people will be contaminated.

“The HRI license marks the first time that any mining company in the U.S. has been federally authorized to mine uranium in a community drinking water aquifer,” says Eric Jantz, NMELC attorney. “This aquifer provides the sole source of drinking water for the mostly Navajo community members represented by ENDAUM. By granting this license, the NRC has failed to uphold its mandate to protect the health and safety of all Americans.”

HRI has stated its objective is to begin mining in Church Rock by mid-2013, and the threatened community has few options left.

“ENDAUM’s best hope is to encourage the executive branch of the federal government to intervene to oppose this license,” says Larry King, an ENDAUM board member. “Efforts over the past 15 years at the federal level have failed to engage officials and regulators about the impact this mining will have on the community’s health and water supply. We have to fight in every legal venue to prevent this mining from taking place."

The petition seeks remedies for the violation of the Navajos human rights and requests that the Commission recommend to the United States to take restorative measures including:

•    The NRC should suspend HRI’s materials license until such time as HRI has remediated the radioactive surface contamination on Church Rock’s Section 17, and the United States has taken significant and meaningful steps to remediate the abandoned uranium mines within the boundaries of the Church Rock Chapter;

•    That the NRC require HRI to submit comprehensive baseline groundwater quality and other hydrological, geological and geochemical data, subject to a public hearing;

•    That the NRC rescind HRI’s license for the Church Rock Section 17 and Unit 1 sites which are subject to the Navajo Nation’s ban on uranium mining and processing;

•    That the NRC or other appropriate administrative agencies prohibit forced removal of Petitioner Larry King and  his family from Church Rock Section 17 or forced disruption of his subsistence grazing practices or cultural activities.

“Multiple international human rights treaties say health is a human right. The NMELC and our clients agree, and by licensing uranium projects in drinking water aquifers, the U.S. government has failed to protect the Navajo community’s human rights,” said Jantz. “New uranium mining will further desecrate Navajo communities across the reservation already suffering illnesses and death because of legacy mining and waste.”

May 16, 2011 at 12:31 AM in Legal Issues, Mining, Native Americans, Nuclear Arms, Power, Water Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

SJC Tables Anti-Cultural Preservation Bill, Companion Bill Still Alive in NM House

On Monday night, a bill that would have thwarted New Mexicans’ ability to protect sacred, cultural, and historic sites was stalled in Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) by a tabling motion that passed 6-4.

“The Pueblo of Acoma is pleased with the committee’s decision,” Governor Randal Vicente of Acoma Pueblo said after the vote. “Tonight’s vote affirms the right of New Mexico Tribes to protect our culture and historical heritage for future generations.”

Senate Bill 421, Cultural Property Registration and Acquisition, sponsored by Sen. Rod Adair (R-Roswell), went through many iterations and amendments in a confusing hearing. The version that was voted on required a majority of all property and mineral rights owners to submit written consent before nominating a property for designation. Because property or mineral interest owners may not be New Mexico residents, this change could have transferred the decision-making power from New Mexicans to out-of-state entities -- and from property owners to extraction industries. Crazy stuff.

“New Mexico is home to rich cultural and historic sites that bolster the tourism industry in many local communities,” said Sandy Buffett, Executive Director of Conservation Voters New Mexico (CVNM). “Protecting the lands that are important to New Mexicans is not only responsible, but ensures that our communities are culturally and economically sound. We applaud the committee’s action to table SB 421.”

SB 421 has an identical companion bill, HB 422, which passed out of House Energy & Natural Resources Committee today (HENRC), and will move on to House Judiciary Committee (HJC). HB 422 is sponsored by Rep. Richard Vigil (D-Ribera).

Take Action: Contact your representative and members of the HJC and urge them to vote no on HB 422.

March 8, 2011 at 12:51 PM in Environment, History, Mining, Native Americans, NM Legislature 2011, Uranium | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Otero Mesa Targeted by Mining Industry

Pronghorn_herd1

From the Coalition for Otero Mesa:
For nearly a decade, the Coalition for Otero Mesa has worked to safeguard the fragile grasslands, abundant wildlife, and freshwater resources of Otero Mesa from full-scale oil and gas drilling. Now, a new and more volatile threat has emerged for America’s largest and wildest grassland –- hardrock mining.

During the months of October and November 2010, over 50 new mining claims were staked in the heart of the Otero Mesa region, by Geovic Mining Corp, based in Denver, Colorado, and also majority owner of the largest cobalt-producing operation in the world, based in Cameroon, Africa. The company is seeking to mine for cobalt nickel magnesium, and has staked claim to a surface area equivocal to 2,178 football fields. This type of hardrock mining operation could significantly alter the landscape and have serious impacts on wildlife habitat, soil composition and underground aquifers in Otero Mesa.

“Without the permanent protection that it deserves, Otero Mesa is always going to be one drill bit, one mine shaft, or one spill away from being lost to us,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “This new threat of hardrock mining in Otero Mesa, underscores the urgency of providing permanent protection for this wild and beautiful grassland.”

Hardrock mining on public lands is governed today by the General Mining Act of 1872 -- a law that has changed little since it was first signed by President Ulysses S. Grant to encourage development of the West. Under this Civil War-era statute, hardrock mining is considered the “highest and best use” for public lands, regardless of the impact on watersheds, wildlife, landscapes or local communities.

“Hardrock mining is a significant cause of water contamination across the West and New Mexico,” said State Senator Steve Fischmann. “In 1979, 94 million gallons of radioactive, acidic mine tailings spilled into the Rio Puerco. Thirty years later, the impacts of that spill still linger. At the very least we must protect habitat and minimize pollution risks to the Salt Basin Aquifer from hardrock mining activities.”

Otero Mesa is an ecologically rich area home to 1,000 native wildlife species, including mule deer, mountain lion, black-tailed prairie dogs, golden and bald eagles, over 200 species of migratory songbirds, and boasts the state’s healthiest and only genetically pure herd of pronghorn antelope. Otero Mesa sits above the Salt Basin Aquifer, which is suspected to be the largest, untapped, fresh water aquifer left in the state of New Mexico. The area also has a long history of cultural use and significance, which includes the estimated 20,000 petroglyphs on Alamo Mountain, historic ruins of the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach, and numerous archeological sites.

Speaking on behalf of the Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa, Ted Rodriguez said, “To us Apaches, Otero Mesa is sacred. It holds a very special place in our history and must be treated as a Holy site, not a mining site. It deserves no less than national monument status.” Mr. Rodriguez is also the Headman of the Mescalero Apache Traditional Elders Council.

Widespread Support
Protection for Otero Mesa enjoys broad support locally and nationally. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson previously proposed a more than 600,000-acre National Conservation Area and has called on the BLM to conduct a new inventory of the area’s wilderness potential. Resolutions of support have come from the cities of Las Cruces and El Paso, Dona Ana County, and the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Tribe. Permanent protection has also been endorsed by former Lt. Governor Diane Denish, former State Secretary of Energy, Minerals & Natural Resources Joanna Prukop, and many state representatives, state senators, county commissioners, city councilors, archaeological societies, religious leaders, and local residents. Furthermore, Governor Bill Richardson asked the Obama administration to designate the area a national monument before leaving office.

“Sportsmen and their families have a long legacy of using Otero Mesa and every acre we lose to development, of any kind, robs us of passing on that legacy,” said John Cornell of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “The long term values of its cultural, recreational, hunting, and ranching and water resources far outweigh any short term benefits of mining.”

For more information on the values of Otero Mesa and efforts to ensure its protection for future generations, visit www.oteromesa.org.

Member organizations of the Coalition for Otero Mesa include the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Southwest Environmental Center, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, The Audubon Society, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Restoring Eden, Environment New Mexico and Apache Advocates for Otero Mesa.

Photo courtesy Coalition for Otero Mesa.

February 23, 2011 at 09:44 AM in Environment, Land Issues, Mining | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hell Froze Over! Uranium and Conservation Advocates Unite to Defeat Uranium Mining Bill

You know what they say: politics makes strange bedfellows, and that's exactly what happened today. An unusual aligning of interests led the conservation community and the uranium industry to jointly oppose and defeat House Bill 111, the “Uranium Legacy Cleanup Act.” The bill was heard this Friday morning in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee (HENRC), and was tabled in a vote of 11 to 1. House Bill 111, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom (D-Gallup), sought to create a fund to begin to pay for the cleanup of uranium mining legacy waste sites.

Although cleanup is a desirable goal, this bill failed to create a fund of sufficient size and also would require new mining to begin in order for the fund to be capitalized, according to Conservation Voters of New Mexico (CVNM). Some residents of polluted mining communities viewed this bill as a “Trojan Horse,” teasing community members with the promise of paltry funds to clean up legacy wastes -- but only if new mining occurs.

“The priority for community members affected by legacy mining is to clean up the decades-old radioactive waste that still pollutes our land and water," said Sandy Buffett, CVNM Executive Director, “but communities should not be forced into accepting new mining as a condition for cleaning up the old mess.”

CVNM points out that an inventory of legacy uranium mine and mill sites has identified nearly three thousand mines or processing sites, most of which have had no remediation to clean up or repair damage done. Requiring responsible parties to clean up their old sites has proven to be nearly impossible. So far, anyway.

February 11, 2011 at 12:59 PM in Energy, Environment, Mining, NM Legislature 2011, Uranium | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sen. Tom Udall Leads Bipartisan Group in Introducing Bill to Expand Relief for Americans Sickened by Radiation Exposure

TomUdall-1 Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) today led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) Amendments of 2010, which would provide expanded restitution for Americans sickened from working in uranium mines or living near atomic weapons tests.

Senator Udall was joined in introducing the legislation by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mark Udall (D-CO), James Risch (R-ID), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). Companion legislation will be introduced in the House this week by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM-3).

Among other things, the RECA Amendments of 2010 would build upon previous RECA legislation by further widening qualifications for compensation for radiation exposure; qualifying post 1971 uranium workers for compensation; equalizing compensation for all claimants to $150,000; expanding the downwind exposure area to include seven states; and funding an epidemiological study of the health impacts on families of uranium workers and residents of uranium development communities.

“Uranium and weapons development of the Cold War era left a gruesome legacy in communities of mine workers and downwinders,” Tom Udall said in a statement released today. “For more than two decades, the United States has tried to compensate in some way for the resultant sickness and loss of life. Today we are taking the next step to close this sad chapter in history and to improve the reach of compassionate compensation to those Americans who have suffered, but have not qualified under RECA in its current form.”

“This bill extends the life of the original compensation initiative, expands the list of compensable diseases, and makes it easier for claimants to prove their illnesses are related to their exposure to uranium. Enacting this bill would ensure that more Americans made sick during the Cold War finally get the compensation they deserve,” said Bingaman, who worked on the original RECA law, as well as the 2000 law that made several improvements to the program. “I’m particularly pleased that it recognizes Trinity site down winders who have suffered much, but who have never been compensated.”

“The legacy of uranium mining still afflicts families and communities today, and it is critically important to ensure that these Americans are compensated for what they’ve endured. Senator Udall’s legislation recognizes the many individuals who have been impacted but unable to receive compensation for their suffering. These Americans have waited long enough,” Luján said.

Specifically, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2010 would:

  • Extend compensation to employees of mines and mills employed from Dec. 31, 1971, until Dec. 31, 1990. These are individuals who began working in uranium mines and mills after 1971 when the U.S. stopped purchasing uranium, but failed to implement and enforce adequate uranium mining safety standards. Many of these workers have the same illnesses as pre-1971 workers who currently qualify for RECA compensation.
  • Add core drillers to the list of compensable employees, which currently only includes miners, millers and ore transporters.
  • Add renal cancer, or any other chronic renal disease, to the list of compensable diseases for employees of mines and mills. Currently, millers and transporters are covered for kidney disease, but miners are not.
  • Allow claimants to combine work histories to meet the requirement of the legislation. For example, individuals who worked half a year in a mill and half a year in a mine would be eligible for compensation. Currently, the Department of Justice makes some exceptions for this, but the policy is not codified in law.
  • Make all claimants available for an equal amount of compensation, specifically $150,000, regardless of whether they are millers, miners, ore transporters, onsite employees, or downwinders.
  • Make all claimants eligible for medical benefits. Currently, only miners, millers and ore transporters can claim medical benefits through the medical expense compensation program.
  • Recognize radiation exposure from the Trinity Test Site in New Mexico, as well as tests in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Expand the downwind areas to include all of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah for the Nevada Test Site; New Mexico for the Trinity Test Site; and Guam for the Pacific tests.
  • Allow the use of affidavits to substantiate employment history, presence in affected area, and work at a test site. Current legislation only allows miners to use affidavits.
  • Return all attorney fees to a cap of 10 percent of the amount of the RECA claim, as was mandated in the original 1990 RECA legislation.
  • Authorize $3 million for five years for epidemiological research on the impacts of uranium development on communities and families of uranium workers. The funds would be allocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to award grants to universities and non-profits to carry out the research.

Tom Udall's father, Stewart Udall, was a former Secretary of the Interior and a strong advocate of compensation for dead and dying Navajo uranium miners. Udall fought battles in court and in Congress, and his work was instrumental in getting the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act of 1990 passed. Stewart Udall passed away peacefully last month at age 90.

April 19, 2010 at 02:33 PM in Healthcare, Mining, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Uranium | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bill Would Fast Track Cleanup of Old Uranium Sites, Create Jobs in New Mexico

This week, Congressmen Harry Teague (NM-02), Ben Ray Luján (NM-03) and Martin Heinrich (NM-01) introduced legislation (H.R. 4817) to make all Surface Mine and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) funds eligible for the remediation of old uranium mines and mills. If the bill were to pass, it would make $14.5 million in existing SMCRA funds available for use to clean the 137 uranium sites across the state that need remediation, according to a statement released by the Congressmen.

“Cleaning up the legacy of the uranium mines and mills is something we owe to our land, our people and our water,” said Congressman Harry Teague, who represents all of Cibola county and part of McKinley county where many of the sites in need of remediation are located. “Making these funds available for uranium site remediation would create jobs in areas where people need to be put back to work, and we would be able to do it using existing funds.”

“Accessing SMCRA funds to reclaim abandoned mining and milling sites creates jobs for New Mexico and begins the long process of restoring our lands and making them accessible to future generations,” said Congressman Ben Ray Luján.

“These contaminated uranium mine and mill sites in New Mexico need to be cleaned up,” said Congressman Martin Heinrich. “This action will create clean-up jobs and protect New Mexico’s most important assets—the health of our citizens and our water.”

According to the Department of Interior, a state cannot use certain SMCRA funds for uranium site remediation until the state has certified that all coal remediation has been completed. Congressmen Teague, Luján and Heinrich introduced the legislation to make all SMCRA funds available to uranium sites immediately because uranium clean-up is a bigger need in the state.

March 12, 2010 at 09:06 AM in Environment, Mining, NM Congressional Delegation, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (NM-03), Rep. Harry Teague (NM-02), Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-01), Uranium | Permalink | Comments (2)