24th Navajo Nation Council - Office of the Speaker
Resources and Development Committee members Honorable Kee Allen Begay, Jr. and Honorable Mark Freeland met with administrators at the United States Environmental Protection Agency headquarters January 9 to discuss abandoned uranium mine reclamation funding and to request greater accountability from the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 office that services the Navajo Nation.
Special Advisor for House Affairs JohnMark Kolb and Deputy Associate Administrator Travis Voyles of the United States Environmental Protection Agency administration responded to Delegate Begay’s request for more direct consultation by the regional offices with an assurance that the issues the Nation is facing have now been elevated to the administration level.
“The more knowledgeable that people are here at the headquarter level, the more improvement at the region level,” said Voyles.
Over the past year, the United States Environmental Protection Agency administration has been encouraging greater collaboration among the regional offices that serve the Navajo Nation. The structure of the Environmental Protection Agency gives the regional offices a great deal of autonomy in conducting their region’s affairs, said the United States Environmental Protection Agency representatives.
“Region 9 is the lead, but we’ve encouraged Region 6 and Region 8 to be more engaged to provide more resources,” said Voyles.
In a significant regional strategic plan update, the San Francisco-based Region 9 Environmental Protection Agency office did not make any meaningful effort to include input from the Navajo Nation, said Delegate Begay.
Federal and State Policy Advisor to the Office of the Speaker Carlyle Begay added that, previously, Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency Director Oliver Whaley expressed his openness to being involved in the plan update.
Based on input received by both the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency program and the Diné Uranium Remediation Advisory Commission, both Delegate Begay and Delegate Freeland made a request to coordinate a later meeting with key federal and Navajo Environmental Protection Agency and uranium officials. The meeting would focus on specific policy recommendations that allow the Navajo Nation to more effectively and directly administer Environmental Protection Agency funding.
Both Delegate Begay and Delegate Freeland stated that the work of creating a stronger, more accountable, and more independent Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency program remains a top priority for the Resources and Development Committee of the 24th Navajo Nation Council.
Delegate Begay continued by pointing out that the United States Environmental Protection Agency currently has one evaluator, called a trustee, that is responsible for developing plans for each identified abandoned uranium mine. For the Navajo Nation, that means one person must perform the task for more than 500 abandoned mines, said Delegate Begay.
In relation to eastern Navajo uranium priorities, Delegate Freeland made a specific request to the Environmental Protection Agency administrators to continue pushing for the Church Rock Mine’s cleanup.
Both delegates added that Resources and Development Committee would like to see a greater portion of federal Environmental Protection Agency funding directed straight into the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency program. The administrators added that the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency has demonstrated a strong record of utilizing the federal taxpayer dollars given to the program thus far.
The Environmental Protection Agency representatives shared that the regions and programs working with tribal governments, including the Navajo Nation, have raised the input from tribal representatives continuously over the past year with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. That input, said Voyles, is important in upcoming budget formulations at the federal level.
Delegate Begay and Delegate Freeland thanked the United States Environmental Protection Agency representatives for listening to the input on a government-to-government basis and made arrangements to follow up with supporting resolutions and documentation to assist the Environmental Protection Agency administration in addressing policies at the federal level. The meeting was part of an advocacy and coordination trip with Congressional members and several federal departments and agencies.