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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Flagstaff Moves to Ban Uranium Hauling – Despite Federal Law

While the Trump administration eyes re-opening areas near the Grand Canyon to new uranium mining claims, a little over 50 miles away the Flagstaff City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night opposing uranium transport through its city.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (CN) – While the Trump administration eyes re-opening areas near the Grand Canyon to new uranium mining claims, a little over 50 miles away the Flagstaff City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night opposing uranium transport through its city.

Tuesday’s resolution stems from a petition set before the City Council in June by Haul No, an organization opposing uranium production, to ban uranium hauling through the college town.

Energy Fuels Resources, one of the nation's largest energy producers, wants to haul uranium from its Canyon Mine south of the Grand Canyon through Flagstaff to the White Mesa Mill in Blanding, Utah. Energy Fuels had not released its confirmed route yet.

Trucks that would haul the uranium would be covered with tarps, per federal standards. Those opposed to Energy Fuels’ plan are concerned the standards do not go far enough to protect the people of Northern Arizona.

Flagstaff’s leaders passed the resolution knowing they have no authority in the matter, but did so in defiance of what the mayor called an unjust law. The resolution passed 6-1.

“The Flagstaff City Council calls upon the United States Department of Transportation to change its policies and statues on the transport of hazardous materials, specifically uranium, to protect Northern Arizona and its diverse population,” the resolution says.

Before the meeting Tuesday night, Haul No organized a protest outside of Flagstaff City Hall. Beneath a yellow-orange light, members of Havasupai tribe, Haul No and the Flagstaff community stood with signs protesting Energy Fuels' hauling plans and uranium production in Arizona in general.

Haul No organizer Klee Benally put the protest, the transporting of uranium and Canyon Mine into a larger context.

“This is the message we need to send: If we can shut down Canyon Mine, we have to take that momentum and energy and shut down the attempt by the Trump administration to wage further nuclear war and genocide against our people by trying to lift this moratorium,” Benally said. “We need to keep uranium in the ground.”

The resolution pits a city of just over 70,000 residents against the federal government.

“I would like us as a council to work with our [congressman] Tom O’Hallaran on a number of things; I think we should explore how we can work together on the closure of Canyon Mine,” Councilmember Eva Putzova said at the meeting. “I think we should also work with our [state representatives] to see what we can do at the state level.”

The Havasupai Tribal Council, president of the Cameron Chapter House of the Navajo Nation, and state Rep. Wenona Benally spoke at the meeting in support of the resolution.

Rep. Benally, a Democrat, spoke on behalf of state Rep. Eric Descheenie and state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, who couldn’t attend the meeting but share responsibility for District 7 which includes cities in Northern Arizona like Winslow and Cameron and a large swath of the Grand Canyon and the Navajo Nation.

“These trucks are going to go right through their community,” Rep. Benally told Courthouse News. “We’ve had a number of Navajo tribal members who have been going chapter to chapter, which are really communities, seeking the passage of several community or chapter resolutions opposing the transport of [uranium.]”

Representatives of Energy Fuels have been present and spoke at previous City Council meetings, but were not present Tuesday.

“I would say that in this country, historically, we have seen several laws over the course of time be changed or overturned because we the people have determined that they were unjust. We the people have determined that they were out of harmony with moral law,” Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said at the meeting. “I would like to say for myself personally, that I think that the legacy of uranium mining in northern Arizona is unjust.”

Earlier this year, Descheenie introduced a bill to install devices along the uranium haul route to monitor uranium levels in the air, but it didn’t make it out of committee.

Now, Descheenie believes the Legislature can’t ignore the Flagstaff action.

“It’s huge. It’s significant,” Descheenie said in a phone interview. “Flagstaff speaks volumes. In a large part, they maintain a lion’s share of political voice for Northern Arizona.”

As the U.S. Forest Service under President Donald Trump recommends lifting the ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, Haul No coordinator Sarana Riggs hopes the Navajo Nation government will now be inspired to voice their opposition.

“People are listening. Our people, the Navajo Nation tribe, are listening," Riggs said.

Categories / Energy, Government, National, Regional

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