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Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter with Reps. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) today to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressing concerns about the potential for a new domestic uranium reserve to harm tribal communities still suffering from previous domestic uranium mining efforts. The letter, available online at https://bit.ly/3ChGXrC, is in response to last month’s DOE “Request for Information Regarding Establishment of the Department of Energy Uranium Reserve Program” (RFI).  

The authors express concerns that any new uranium reserve would inevitably put Indigenous and frontline communities at risk of further pollution. They urge Secretary Granholm to engage in more meaningful direct outreach to communities and stakeholders than the recently extended, but still insufficient, 60-day comment period. The authors fear that by limiting public engagement, DOE risks repeating the same flawed process that has been responsible for extensive pollution in tribal and frontline communities.  

“While the RFI proposes that the uranium reserve would not accept uranium produced from tribal lands, from expanded access to additional uranium deposits on federal land, or from the expansion of the Office of Legacy Management’s Uranium Leasing Program, this is not enough to ensure the protection of frontline communities, especially Indigenous ones,” the authors write. 

Pollution from uranium mining continues to be a serious quality-of-life issue for Indigenous communities and public lands throughout the Southwest. In the letter, the authors note how much damage uranium mining and its ongoing negative effects have done to the Navajo Nation, where one in four women have been found to have elevated levels of the substance in their bloodstream. Even the Grand Canyon has not been spared, with abandoned mines both inside the national park and on surrounding lands continuing to leak contaminated water to this day.

The authors also contend that establishment of a government-funded uranium reserve is unnecessary given current stockpile levels: 

Additionally, there is no urgent demand for domestic uranium to justify the creation of a uranium reserve. The United States is able to obtain most of the uranium it needs from suppliers domestically, and from Canada and Australia, and has enough enriched uranium stockpiled to meet defense needs. According to a DOE report, tritium supplies—a fuel for nuclear warheads partly derived from uranium—are sufficient through at least 2040, while other defense uses may not demand new uranium until 2060.

Uranium mining companies, which would benefit from the establishment of a new uranium reserve, operate under the General Mining Law of 1872, which does not require them to pay royalties or reclamation fees for their activities. The House Natural Resources Committee on Sept. 9 approved its portion of the Build Back Better Act, which included the establishment of new fees and royalties for hardrock mining.

Today’s letter builds upon Natural Resources Committee Democrats’ efforts to strengthen both environmental justice and tribal consultation since taking the majority in 2019. Those efforts bolstered the establishment of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which has already submitted proposals to the White House contradicting the need to establish a new uranium reserve in any Indigenous or frontline community.