Hidden Payoff Scandal
Bush Energy Bill Attempts to Sneak in Corporate Welfare Handout
The energy bill going before the Senate includes $30 million in corporate welfare handouts for a specific corporation -- Hydro Resources Inc. for leach uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, where communities are already suffering from disease and death after a half-century of uranium mining during the Cold War.
"We're mad as hell," said Lori Goodman, spokeswoman for Dine (Navajo) Citizens Against Ruining our Environment (Dine CARE). "While we are told there is no money to pay the ill uranium miners, funds are being set aside in the House Energy Bill for a private corporation to start uranium mining in New Mexico. Where is the compassion for the miners made ill by their work?
Goodman continued, "Is compassion only reserved for the rich?" as Navajos prepared to rally at Red Rock State Park Sept. 25-26 in opposition to the funding.
Calling it corporate welfare, Goodman said amendment sponsor Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., was quick to subsidize uranium mining companies, while "she never lifted a hand for the uranium workers' concerns."
Ann Reitz of Crownpoint said Wilson should move to Crownpoint if she wants uranium mining here.
Uranium mining would contaminate the primary source of drinking water for more than 15,000 Dine people and Anglo teachers and health care workers in Crownpoint, Coyote Canyon, Mariano Lake, and Smith Lake.
"The people of this community have spoken, but their Navajo leaders and federal politicians continue to ignore the fact that the majority of us do not want this mine. Would Wilson like her children to be in school a quarter of a mile downwind from acres of drying ponds containing radioactive slurry, or to drink water from wells a quarter of a mile from 'pregnant lixiviant' loaded with uranium, radium, arsenic, selenium, molybdenum?" asked Reitz.
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said he attempted to strike the provision in the final energy bill but was not successful. "The uranium provisions are opposed by Native American groups, environmentalists, and taxpayer watchdog groups who have labeled the Wilson provision as 'blatant corporate welfare'," said Glen Loveland, press secretary for Udall.
Udall urged his colleagues to vote against the amendment in H.R. 4 of the Securing America's Future Energy Act of 2001.
"The local Navajo communities have suffered tremendously over this government's past practices and policies regarding uranium mining," Udall said, pointing out that Arizona, Colorado, and Utah are already suffering from long-term uranium mining.
Wilson's corporate welfare plan ironically came at the same time as Bush announced he will stop benefits to some victims of uranium mining, even though those payments are mandated by law. Udall said that apparently "We as a nation cannot find the financial resources necessary to fully fund the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, to compensate the victims of past uranium development, but we may put our stamp of approval on this $30 million giveaway for the uranium industry."
"Last year, Congress clearly mandated payments under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to former uranium miners, workers, and downwinders," said Melton Martinez, president of Eastern Navajo Uranium Workers. "But now, the government is denying and delaying justice by changing the rules and have even stated clearly their priority constituents."
In defense of her amendment, Wilson said, "The industry has convinced me that this is worth looking into."
Jill Lancelot, cofounder and legislative director of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington, D.C., was among those opposing the amendment. "This is simply propping up the uranium mining industry at the expense of fiscal common sense," Lancelot said.
Speaking out at a community meeting in Crownpoint, Navajo area doctors said their major concern is that in-situ leach mining will produce harmful uranium levels and damage human kidneys. There is more than 200 times the uranium level in the Crownpoint aquifer than is designated as a safe level by the World Health Organization.
Uniting to oppose the effort are Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, Dine CARE, American Indian Movement, Southwest Research and Information Center, Physicians Resisting In-Situ Mining, New Mexico Environmental Law Center, U.S. and New Mexico Public Interest Research Groups, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Mineral Policy Center, Nuclear Information Resource Service, Public Citizen, and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
This article originally appeared in Indian Country Today.
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