Hopis ban environmentalists

Environmental activists and organizations were blacklisted as the biggest threats to the Hopi and Navajo tribes last week. The Hopi Tribe passed a resolution on Sept. 28 barring conservationists from traveling on reservation lands, and Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. expressed his support.

The relatively small Hopi Reservation is located in northeastern Arizona and completely surrounded by the Navajo Reservation. The tribal lands include Peabody’s controversial Black Mesa Mine, and Peabody and the Hopi Tribe have been pushing for a major expansion of the coal mine in recent years.

Last Monday, the Hopi Tribal Council unanimously approved a resolution barring environmentalist groups and individuals who oppose its development of coal resources from traveling on reservation lands. Specifically, the Hopi Council stated that the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Grand Canyon Trust as well as organizations affiliated with them are no longer welcome on Hopi land.

The Council cited the closure of the Mohave Generating Station, which used coal exclusively from the Black Mesa Mine, as one example of an objectionable action by environmental groups. Located in Laughlin, Nev., the Mohave Generating Station was shuttered in 2005 following a lawsuit that alleged numerous air quality violations at the plant. This closure resulted in the loss of $6.5 million to $8.5 million in tribal revenues per year, according to the Hopi Council.

The Navajo Nation sees parallels with opposition to the Desert Rock Power Plant and the Environmental Protection Agency’s repeal of the permit for the plant. Navajo President Shirley said he strongly supports the Hopi Tribe’s resolution to declare local and national environmental groups unwelcome on Hopi land.

“I stand with the Hopi Nation,” he said. “Unlike ever before, environmental activists and organizations are among the greatest threats to tribal sovereignty, tribal self-determination, and our quest for independence.”

Shirley encouraged other tribes to join the movement. “By their actions, environmentalists would have tribes remain dependent on the federal government, and that is not our choice,” he said. “I want the leaders of all Native American nations to know this is our position, and I would ask for their support of our solidarity with the Hopi Nation in the protection of their sovereignty and self-determination, as well as ours.”

Last week, Shirley also worked to resurrect Desert Rock and announced that the power plant had applied for a carbon capture and sequestration grant, which could reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions from the plant. “For two years we’ve said that the Navajo Nation and Sithe Global would be willing to implement carbon capture and sequestration technology to make Desert Rock the technology leader for the world,” he said. “This grant application is our plan for that. We’re very hopeful the Department of Energy will see the potential to have the U.S. and the Navajo Nation lead the world.”

The application seeks $451 million from the DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative for the costs associated with the addition of carbon capture, compression, and a pipeline spur to Kinder Morgan’s existing Cortez CO2 pipeline. The captured CO2 would be used to help with enhanced oil recovery in west Texas, and Desert Rock would pay 56 percent of the costs.

Montrose County stamps uranium mill

Uranium took yet another step back into the region last week. The Piñon Ridge Mill won a contentious Sept. 30 approval from the Montrose County Commission in its bid to break ground in the nearby Paradox Valley. Opponents of the mill counter that the permitting process has only just begun.

Energy Fuels Inc., a Toronto-based uranium and vanadium mining company, is currently planning the construction of the nation’s first uranium mill in 25 years. The mill would be sited on 1,000 acres of privately owned land in Paradox Valley, halfway between the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. The facility would also be relatively close to the only other operating uranium mill in the U.S. – the White Mesa Mill in Blanding.

Energy Fuels hopes to begin construction in 2011, and last week’s approval put Energy Fuels on track to meet that timeline. The company now needs only approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Department to break ground.

In the lead-up to the approval, more than 100 citizens voiced their opposition to the plan and raised concerns and criticisms of Energy Fuels’ plan to process 1,000 tons of uranium ore each day. Travis Stills, an attorney with the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center, noted that these concerns did not fall on deaf ears. The commission did approve the mill, but only contingent on 19 environmental requirements.

 “I think the important piece of the county process was that Energy Fuels did not extract the clean approval that everyone expected,” Stills said. “There are now 19 very stringent conditions attached to the permit that will require a lot of work from the company. That was a huge victory for a lot of folks.”

Energy Fuels is currently preparing an application that is “4 feet thick” for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Stills argued that the mill will either pass or fail the coming test. “Although it’s been billed as a significant milestone by Energy Fuels, the county permit is a trivial stamp, if anything,” Stills said. “The first inning of a baseball game is an apt metaphor. Sure they might have scored a couple easy runs, but this game is far from over.”

Local air quality returns to spotlight

Air quality experts will breathe new life into a familiar local debate this week. A panel will discuss the state of Four Corners air quality and its impact on the health of area residents as the Life Long Learning Series continues at Fort Lewis College.

The panel includes some of the West’s foremost authorities on the air we breathe. Mike Silverstein, deputy director of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division, will be in attendance. He leads the division’s efforts to assess air quality issues in the Four Corners region and Rocky Mountain National Park. Bob Thompson, retired member of the Life Sciences Department at Arizona State University, has written publications on the impact of fire in Vallecito and Southwestern Colorado and will also be in attendance. Patrick Cummins, director of Air Quality Programs for the Western Governors’ Association, rounds out the panel. The three will discuss the air contaminants in our region, the origins of the pollutants and the health hazards posed by their presence.

“Four Corners Air Quality and Our Health” is set for 7 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 8, and meets in 130 Noble Hall. The forum will also be broadcast on DCAT. Visit www.dcat.tv/schedule.php for times.

Agency to thin local bouldering area

A popular climbing area goes beneath the blade this week. The Turtle Lake Bouldering Area, located on the north side of Falls Creek Road, will be closed for approximately two weeks for a Bureau of Land Management fuels-reduction project. Hand-thinning crews will be removing oak brush and small juniper trees on 17 acres on both sides of the road to reduce fire danger.

Crews plan to leave a buffer zone around the core bouldering area, where they will remove only dead oak and small junipers. Live oak trees will be retained to offer vegetative screening between the bouldering sites and the county road. The project is scheduled to begin sometime this week, but exact timing was uncertain.

– Will Sands



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