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Navajo Nation is drafting regulations for uranium ore transport through reservation

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

The Navajo Nation’s Department of Justice has revealed that it’s planning to impose transportation regulations in response to uranium ore that’s being extracted near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

A contractor for Energy Fuels, the company overseeing the Pinyon Plain Mine, is scheduled to begin hauling the radioactive material — sometime this summer through the largest U.S. reservation en route to the White Mesa Mill near Blanding, Utah — a plan in which the Navajo Nation opposes but cannot prohibit.

Dan Moquin is a principal attorney at the Navajo Nation DOJ’s natural resources unit and leading efforts to draft the regulations, which could include curfews, licensing requirements for drivers, inspection stations and even fees.

“This is not being done for money. We don’t want the shipments, period, and if the price of uranium goes down, those fees might be a deal breaker where they will not want to ship,” said Moquin during a recent virtual discussion with Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch on legal tools the Nation has at its disposal. “I don’t anticipate that, but to the degree that we make it more expensive, that’s only to our advantage.”

Branch and Moquin cited the Radioactive and Related Substances Equipment, Vehicles, Persons and Materials Transportation Act, a 2012 tribal law passed by the Navajo Nation Council that prohibits the transport of uranium on the reservation, as its legal authority to develop any regulations.

Between six and eight trucks are expected to travel from the Pinyon Plain Mine through the Navajo Nation each day; escorting those vehicles might be another regulatory avenue.

“We’re trying to thread that needle. It’s very difficult, but we haven’t completely ruled out escorts,” Moquin elaborated. “But we do understand that requiring that, which is not done under federal or state regulation, does increase the risk that the regulations will be preempted, and found unenforceable.”

Although he shared “we’re still making changes on a daily basis,” Moquin added that “they’re very close to be finalized.”

A period of public meetings will occur to offer comments, opinions and suggestions on how to improve them. When reached for comment, Energy Fuels expressed it was unaware of the Navajo Nation DOJ’s announcement.

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Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.