Leonard Peltier Update - Navajo President, Joe Shirley Jr., On Uranium Mining - No More Divide And Conquer!
Minneapolis, March 11, 2008. - Peltier was convicted of killing two FBI agents during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. But his supporters, including some human rights groups, believe that he is innocent and that he was targeted because of his political activism.
About 3,500 pages were turned over for Peltier's original trial in 1977. But his attorneys have discovered over the years that the actual number of documents the FBI has on Peltier is 142,579, said attorney Michael Kuzma.
Peltier has tried for nearly seven years to use the federal Freedom of Information Act to get the tens of thousands of pages still being withheld."I just think this thing stinks to high heaven," Kuzma said after the hearing. He told the court, "We still don't know the truth about what happened back then."
Judge Lavenski R. Smith asked Kuzma what the remedy would be for Peltier. Kuzma said the court should conduct "a full in-camera review of thedocuments."
When Smith expressed some disbelief at that idea, Kuzma added that, if that were too burdensome, the court could focus on the documents from 1977, of which Peltier has received none
Tom Byron, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington,D.C., argued that "there's no support" for an in-camera inspection of the records. -
St. Paul Pioneer Press excerpt,
Joe Shirley, Jr. On Uranium Mining
By Kathy Helms
WINDOW ROCK – Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., testifying Wednesday in Washington, asked members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to respect the Nation's tragic experience with uranium mining and to honor its ban on uranium mining within Navajo Indian Country.
“I will not allow dividing and conquering the Navajo people to remain a profitable strategy,” he told the committee chaired by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and co-chaired by ranking Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici as it heard testimony on abandoned mines, hardrock mining and reform of the 1872 mining law.
The hearing coincided with a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, representing groups in New Mexico, Nevada, Illinois and Idaho, which seeks to close a loophole currently allowing mining companies and other polluting industries to skip out on costly cleanups by declaring bankruptcy.
The House of Representatives approved a measure last fall requiring operators of gold, silver, and other hardrock mines to post a bond to cover future cleanup costs before receiving a permit to mine on public lands. The Senate is expected to introduce a companion bill this session.
Robin Nazzaro, testifying on behalf of the Government Accountability Office, said GAO asked 12 western states and Alaska to provide information on the number of abandoned hardrock mine sites and associated features in their states. Over the last 10 years, estimates have varied widely, in part because there is no generally accepted definition for a hardrock mine site.
Using a consistent definition that GAO provided, it was estimated that at least 161,000 abandoned mine sites exist in these states, with at least 332,000 features that may pose physical safety hazards and at least 33,000 sites that have degraded the environment.
In 2001, the Bureau of Land Management began requiring all mining operators to provide financial assurances before beginning exploration or mining operations on BLM land. According to BLM's information on financial assurances reported in its November 2007 Bond Review Report, mine operators had provided financial assurances valued at about $982 million to guarantee reclamation costs for 1,463 hardrock operations on BLM land.
The report also estimates that 52 mining operations have financial assurances that amount to about $28 million less than needed to fully cover estimated reclamation costs. However, GAO found that financial assurances for the 52 operations are actually about $61 million less than needed, Nazzaro said.
Sen. Bingaman said not only are abandoned hardrock mines “a blight on our landscapes in the West,” they also pose serious public health and safety risks, degrade the environment “and pose special threats to our most precious resource: water.”
“In 1977, Congress enacted an AML program to address the serious problem of abandoned coal mines. We are overdue to enact a similar program to deal with abandoned hardrock mines,” he said.
Domenici said that in the context of mining law reform, abandoned mine land reclamation is the most significant opportunity to improve the environment. “But we will not find success unless we face the realities of what can actually pass the full Senate.
“We should remember that our ability to clean up abandoned mines — to have the funds available for reclamation — is contingent upon the existence of a healthy mining industry.”
President Shirley reminded the committee that the Navajo people do not want renewed uranium mining on or near the Navajo Nation. “Uranium mining that takes place on land just off the reservation boundary will not and cannot hold its contaminants within a narrow area. The contamination will travel; it does not stay in one place.
Shirley said many companies have approached the Nation over the years “with promises of vast riches if we were to allow them to mine our uranium deposits.”
Recently some companies have promoted the use of in-situ leach mining.“These companies claim the process is harmless,” Shirley said, but added, “The science on this process is at best inconclusive, and at worst points to increased background radiation than existed before the mining operation.
“I have a hard time believing the claims of those who wish to profit from uranium mining that their 'new' process is so much safer when history and science establish a different record. The Navajo People have been consistently lied to over the last 50-plus years by companies and government officials concerning the effects of various mining activities.
“Why should we believe these companies now when this industry failed to clean up the toxic mess they left behind the first time? Why should we believe these companies now, when years after the last pound of uranium was removed from Navajoland, my people still get sick and die from contamination?”
New Mexico Sen. David Ulibarri, who is also county manager for Cibola County, said the county commission passed a resolution July 23, 2007, in support of the federal mining law of 1872. The resolution urges Congress not to amend the existing federal mining law in a manner to make mining on public lands less competitive.
The Cibola County Conmmission and the Grants City Commission have passed resolutions supporting the re-emerging uranium production industry. Neighboring McKinley County Commissioners have likewise passed a pro-uranium mining resolution, he said.
“The gist of these resolutions is that so long as future uranium production can be carried out in such a manner as to protect the workers, the public and the environment, we welcome this industry's return to our community. Grants once termed itself the Uranium Capital of the World. We would be proud to reclaim this title,” he said.
Ulibarri said the leadership of Acoma and Laguna, pueblos he represents, have questioned the benefits of renewed uranium production. “While I respect their concerns, because of new federal and state standards and better appreciation for the impacts of uranium production, I would submit that new mining will not result in creating the impacts of the past.
“I would also urge the Acoma and Laguna leadership and their Navajo counterparts to become part of the discussion on how we can achieve the benefits of this industry in a safe and environmentally protective manner. We can all truly have a win-win situation in what is now a very economically disadvantaged region of New Mexico.”
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