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Newsbites – March 2017
Navajo Uranium Mine Settlement
The Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Navajo Nation recently reached a settlement agreement with two subsidiaries of Freeport-McMoRan to clean up 94 abandoned uranium mines in western New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Cyrus Amax and Western Nuclear will evaluate the engineering. The EPA will collaborate with the tribe’s environmental protection agency to oversee the work. Environmental investigation and remediation jobs will be offered to members of the Navajo Nation. The federal government has agreed to place $335 million into a trust account to pay about half of the cleanups’ costs.
The consent decree is subject to approval by a federal court. With this settlement, funds are now committed to begin the cleanup at over 200 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Many Navajos worked in and near the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills where ore was processed. Former miners and residents continue to lobby for legislation that would cover the cost of medical treatments for health problems that allegedly resulted.
Private entities mined approximately 30 million tons of uranium ore on or near the Navajo Nation between 1944 and 1986. The federal government, through the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), was the sole purchaser until 1966, when commercial sales began. The AEC continued to purchase ore until 1970. The last uranium mine on the Navajo Nation shut down in 1986. There are three proposed mines in the Grand Canyon area and a closed mine that has been seeking permits to reopen.
Navajo Generating Station May Close by 2019
In part because natural gas is now less expensive than coal, owners of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) near Page, Arizona, want to close the massive plant when its lease expires in two years. The NGS serves customers in Arizona and Nevada and provides power to pump water from the Colorado River to urban areas via the Central Arizona Project.
The closure would affect about 800 workers at the NGS, Peabody Coal’s Kayenta Mine 78 miles away and ancillary jobs. Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman Honanie said that at least 80 percent of the Hopi Tribe’s revenues are derived from the power plant and mine.
The owners of the NGS—Salt River Project (SRP), Arizona Public Service Corp., Nevada Energy and Tucson Electric Power—now must negotiate with the Navajo a lease for removal and restoration on their land after the plant closes in 2019. According to an SRP spokesman, if no deal can be reached, the plant will close in 2017.
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye wants to keep the NGS operating through at least 2030 and said he would petition the Trump administration for support. Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment, one of several Navajo groups challenging NGS’ federal exemption from having to reduce its haze-causing nitrogen oxide emissions, said in a statement, “It is up to Begaye to embrace new forms of energy and send a clear message that the tribe is in the business of developing our vast renewable energy resources.” A 2012 U.S. Dept. of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory study that evaluated alternatives to the NGS concluded that Navajo lands have the potential to generate 1.2 terawatts of utility-scale solar energy.
Officials Seek to Overturn Methane Rule
New Mexico’s governor, Susana Martínez, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn are backing a Republican congressional effort to overturn the BLM Methane and Natural Gas Waste Prevention Rule, which requires producers to capture methane vented, flared or leaked on public and tribal lands and to comply with increased inspections. They say the rule is unnecessary and threatens jobs and funding for schools and roads.
The rule is projected to reduce the $330-million of taxpayer- and tribally-owned natural gas currently wasted annually, enough to supply nearly 740,000 homes for a year. An emerging methane mitigation sector now provides jobs in 46 states.
The rule’s opponents have not addressed the fossil fuel industry’s role in the buildup of greenhouse gasses—predominantly CO2 and methane—that are contributing to the dire impacts of climate change. Methane is a concentrated gas that traps heat in the atmosphere. It has also been linked to respiratory ailments. Emissions from the San Juan Basin have created a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the Four Corners region. New Mexico is one of the only oil and gas states in the U.S. that has no state-level air-quality regulations for oil and gas wells. A repeal of the federal rule would leave New Mexico without a tool to clean up the methane hot spot. The Trump administration plans to open up additional public lands for coal, oil and gas production.
“Seasons of Growth” Learning Series at IPCC
Visitors will be guided through a history of indigenous agriculture.
Visitors will get their hands dirty as they learn about Pueblo agriculture by digging into the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC)’s Resilience Garden. On March 12 IPCC’s Cultural Education team will launch a series of monthly classes called “Seasons of Growth” to guide participants through the history and techniques of indigenous farming. The public is invited to participate in planting, cultivating and harvesting from 9 to 11 am the second Sunday of every month through October, at 2401 12th St NW, in Albuquerque.
The garden is on the north side of the IPCC campus. It allows visitors to take a self-guided tour along pathways, immersing themselves in the sights, smells and textures of Pueblo agriculture. A PNM Power Up Grant helped make possible installation of a drip irrigation system, public seating and signage.
“This program explores the whole history of Pueblo agriculture, from waffle gardens to raised beds to rows,” says Bettina Sandoval (Taos Pueblo), Cultural Education specialist. “We actually experience everything in a real garden setting where we’ll be able to see the fruits of our labor.”
Each class will focus on a different aspect of traditional agriculture. On March 12, visitors will prepare soil and compost and learn about cold-weather crops, then take home their own seedlings to cultivate indoors until they can be planted. On April 9, participants will hand-form the “waffle” structure Pueblo farmers used for centuries to concentrate limited rainfall around crops’ roots. Planting will begin, cultivation will continue through the summer, and there will be lessons on saving seeds.
Classes are $5 per person. People can participate in individual sessions or the whole series. Anyone who wishes to get involved without taking the classes can arrive at 11 am for an hour of volunteering. To learn more, visit: www.facebook.com/IndianPueblo and www.indianpueblo.org
Pueblo and Navajo Leaders Host Historic Summit to Protect Chaco Canyon
On Feb. 23, 2017, the All Pueblo Council of Governors (APCG), a governing body that has been in existence for over 400 years, hosted a historic summit between the governors, representing 20 Pueblo tribes, and the president and vice-president of the Navajo Nation. The meeting focused on how tribal nations in the Southwest can work together to protect sacred sites in the greater Chaco Canyon region. An oil and gas lease sale to auction off about 840 acres near Chaco Culture National Historical Park took place on Jan. 25.
The meeting at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque was the first of its kind. It was held to facilitate further government-to-government consultation with federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Bureau of Indians Affairs (BIA) and National Park Service (NPS), over actions or management plans that may affect Chaco Canyon, traditional cultural properties and sacred sites.
APCG Chairman Edward Paul Torres (Isleta) said, “I’m pleased that President Russell Begaye and Vice-president Jonathan Nez joined with us. We look forward to uniting with the Navajo Nation on this and other issues in the future.” Navajo Nation President Begaye said, “The meeting today reaffirms our connection to each other as Native people and our shared commitment to working with other tribal nations in the Southwest. Our ancestral homelands are intertwined, and all of them deserve to be protected for future generations.” State Representative Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo said, “I continue to support greater protections for the greater Chaco landscape and lands that surround the National Park boundary.”
The APCG is comprised of the pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Sandia, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni and Ysleta del Sur. The council asked Gov. Mark Mitchell of Tesuque Pueblo to develop a framework for an Intertribal Workgroup of Pueblo, Navajo and other Southwest tribal nations. Gov. Mitchell said, “Today’s meeting illustrates just how powerful our tribal nations are when we remain united.”
Sustainable Santa Fe Community Meetings
Residents and community members are invited to attend upcoming meetings presented by the Sustainable Santa Fe Commission, which has been developing a 25-year plan for Santa Fe to become a thriving green city and world leader in taking care of its community, economy and environment, including a goal to lessen climate impacts by becoming carbon-neutral by 2040. The commission is seeking public input and feedback.
Building on the work of previous commissions and other entities, for the past 15 months the commission has engaged more than 50 experts in working groups to address regional issues related to energy, water, buildings, transportation, waste management, environmental protection, food security and greenhouse gas emissions. Commission members discussed these topics and developed proposals with education, economic development and social equity in mind. Recommendations include providing opportunities for city operations, businesses, nonprofits and community members to benefit by adopting sustainability practices. Reducing the need for low- and moderate-income workers to commute by providing better access to affordable housing, and integrating land and infrastructure planning with transportation planning to facilitate higher-density neighborhoods with better access to public transit, work, healthy food and broadband are among the recommendations being discussed.
Four initial meetings have been scheduled. They will take place on March 30, 5:30–7:30 pm at Hotel Santa Fe Kiva Rooms, 1501 Paseo de Peralta; April 7, 10:30 am–12:30 pm at the Southside Library, 6599 Jaguar Dr. (co-hosted by Earth Care); April 11, 5:30–7:30 pm at the Geneoveva Chávez Center Community Room, 3221 Rodeo Rd.; and April 22, 2–4 pm at Chainbreaker Community Center, 1515 5th St. (co-hosted by Chainbreaker Collective).
Food and refreshments will be provided at these events. For more information, contact SSF Commission Chair Beth Beloff: 505.467.8530, email@example.com or co-chair Rob Hirsch: 505.988.3364, firstname.lastname@example.org
Gila River Diversion Data Released
Though formed in 2015, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity—the agency the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) has tasked with overseeing the controversial proposed diversion on the Gila River—still lacks a website. To read meeting agendas or minutes, the public must request them from the agency’s chair. They are posted on the ISC’S Arizona Water Settlement Act’s website but the most recent is from August 2015.
In December, retired ISC Director Norman Gaume asked his former agency for an unclassified copy of spreadsheets showing how much water is diverted from and used annually along the Gila River and its tributaries in New Mexico. Gaume wanted to see if the data supported the state’s assertions that farmers and other users don’t have enough water. In response to his request, the ISC reclassified the spreadsheets and refused to provide the information to Gaume—who has vehemently opposed the state’s plans to build the $500 million diversion—unless he signed an agreement that says the data can’t be shared or used for any “political or commercial purposes” without the agency’s written approval. The agreement carries criminal penalties.
After a NM Political Report story appeared, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich sent a letter to ISC Director Deborah Dixon requesting the spreadsheets. “It is common sense that information about our water resources should be readily available in the course of consideration of major new water projects and taxpayer financing of new water projects,” Heinrich wrote. “At a time when our state is facing difficult budget decisions, we need to be deliberate in our assessment of whether dewatering the Gila River is a wise use of taxpayer dollars.” The state agency then released seven Excel spreadsheets to the senator’s office with assurances that the data would be made available to the public on the commission’s website.
Upon finally reviewing the spreadsheet, Gaume found no evidence of water shortages along the Gila in in recent years. In fact, more than 4,000 acre-feet of existing water rights on the river went unused in 2015.
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