By Tracy Dingmann
The decades-long legal battle over is effectively over – and now uranium mining in Indian Country is just a couple of state permits away from happening.
Last week the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a crucial ruling in a landmark case that clears the way for Hydro Resources to seek permit renewals from the New Mexico Environment Department for mining on land the company owns near Churchrock.
Specifically, the court ruled that the 160-acre parcel of land was NOT on what’s considered Indian land, meaning that the company must get permission from the state Environment Department – not the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The state had already approved permits for the company to mine there back in 1989 – but the process was stopped by lawsuits filed by the Navajo Nation, which said the parcel of land in question was on Indian land and therefore under federal jurisdiction.
The Najavo Nation and other involved parties said they opposed it because of the possibility that the in situ leaching method of mining the company plans to employ to extract uranium could contaminate precious groundwater for thousands of people.
The Navajo Nation banned uranium mining of all kinds in 2005. Contamination from decades-old abandoned mines and uranium tailings are still a huge problem there and are believed to be the cause of many health problems among people living there.
As of Thursday, Hydro Resources Inc. had not yet applied for any permit renewal, New Mexico Environment Department spokeswoman Marissa Stone Bardino said in a phone interview.
If and when the company’s permitting request does come in, the department anticipates that those in the community who oppose the company’s plan to mine the land will ask for a public hearing on it, Bardino said.
Eric Jantz, an attorney with the Environmental Law Center, which represents Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining and other parties involved in the lawsuit, said his clients have talked about the ruling but haven’t decided what to do about it yet.
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
Jantz said he expects one of the many parties who opposes uranium mining will likely ask for hearing if and when a permit is requested and the scope of the request is known.
Stay tuned to Clearly New Mexico for updates.