Environmental Justice or Corporate Rights to Water?

Debra White Plume

Our worldview ingrains the belief in our Lakota spirits, hearts and minds that water is a sacred gift, as much a relative and part of our Creation Story as any of the Star Nation, or two-legged, four-legged, winged creature or those of the standing silent nation, and all here on our ancient Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth), including the four winds.

Water is finite, and precious. Mni wicozani means “through water there is life.” This is a fact of life understood without question. The corporatization of the American government has distorted the interpretation of laws to give corporations more rights to water than humans, as evidenced by the drought situation on the west coast where, in a snapshot view, water rationing is in effect for humans but not corporations. The shareholders of the extractive industry have increasingly gained rights through governmental loopholes to use, waste, and contaminate water over the decades since the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Winters Doctrine, and many other laws that were enacted to protect water rights, the preservation of water, and the protection of water quality for American humans.

The uranium mining industry is a major water consumer in this big land. The Canadian-based Cameco, Inc. uranium corporation currently operating (for 10 years now) its’ in situ leach (ISL) uranium mine at the base of Crow Butte near Crawford, Nebraska has obtained rights to use 9,000 gallons of water per minute to extract raw uranium ore through 8,000 drilled holes in the ground, through the precious and ancient (and so slow to recharge) glacial Ogllala and Arikaree Aquifers, and has rights to bury its radioactive waste water in deep disposal wells, forever (so far about half a billion gallons). Cameco also ISL mines uranium in Wyoming (where it paid a million dollar environmental degradation fine a few years ago, is it cheaper to pay a fine than obey a permit?). Cameco is the world’s largest uranium producer, ironically, most of their mines are on indigenous lands around the world. Crow Butte is known to the Lakota as a sacred place for vision quest and medicine, and where Crazy Horse spent many of his last days in prayer and solitude before his murder at the nearby Ft. Robinson prisoner of war compound. We can’t go there anymore.

Cameco, Inc. must apply to renew its Crow Butte license, and has filed permit applications to open three additional uranium mines, 30 miles from our southern border inside our ancestral Ft. Laramie Treaty lands. They have opposition. In 2007 several folks and organizations filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to challenge Cameco’s right to mine, presenting scientific evidence that all is not right with this corporations’ mining practices. This was the first time in 17 years anyone in America challenged a uranium corporations’ right to mine. It is truly a David v. Goliath battle.

After years of the intervenors attorneys battling it out with the attorneys of the Cameco corporation and the NRC, the U.S. Atomic Licensing Board (ALB) judges decided which contentions are admissible and so will be argued at the hearing August 24-28.  While there are many arguments against Cameco’s right to mine, not all are admissible at this hearing.

The contentions include failure to meet applicable legal requirements for protection of historical and cultural resources, failure to involve or consult the Oglala Sioux Tribe as required by law; there is no evidence based science for the NRC’s conclusion that the ISL mine has no radiological health impacts, that nonradiological impacts for excursions or spills is “small,” that the NRC characterization that impacts surface waters is minimal and does not accurately address the potential for environmental harm to the White River; a fault along the White River can act as a pathway to transport contaminants to the White River from the ISL mine; that there is an issue of environmental justice as the contaminants would spread through the White River drainage area; failure to take a hard look at environmental justice impacts and failure to describe cumulative impacts; failure to use recent research describing geological scientific evidence; that the final Environmental Assessment violates the National Environmental Policy Act; failure to look at selenium impacts and air emissions and liquid waste; and secondary porosity.

Expert witnesses for the intervenors include Dennis Yellow Thunder and Michael Catches of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Archaeologist Redmond, biochemist McLean, hydrogeologists Wireman, and Kreamer, and stratiagrapher LaGarry.

Attorneys Andrew Reid, Thomas Ballanco, Bruce Ellison, and David Frankel represent the intervenors granted status: the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Debra White Plume, Joe American Horse Tiospaye, Tom and Loretta Cook Tiwahe, Owe Aku (Bring Back the Way), and the Western Nebraska Resource Council.

The intervenors’ attorneys filed a motion to hold the hearing for one day on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to make it accessible for members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe but the motion was denied. The ALB Judges issued a ruling to forbid the carrying of weapons or ammo into hearing, following the PowerTech, Inc. uranium hearing in Rapid City, South Dakota last year after PowerTech’s employees and supporters wore handguns in holster into the hearing. The judges ruled that no cameras or any recording equipment will be allowed in the hearing.

The hearing will begin at 9:30 a.m. on August 24 and conclude at 6:00 p.m. on August 28, 2015 at the Crawford Community Center in Crawford, Nebraska. It is open to the public. There will be a rally for SacredWater Protection at 6 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.

To learn more, visit www.oweakuinternational.org, or watch the recently released documentary Crying Earth Rise Up by Prairie Dust Films at www.cryingearthriseup.com (also available on your local PBS television station).

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