Members of the Energy and Natural Resources committee will participate online or in person.
The hearing will happen in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington. According to Senate guidelines for health and safety, the office building will allow only official business visitors and credential press. No in-person visitors can attend the hearing.
This is a developing story.
Aliyah Chavez, Kewa Pueblo, is a reporter-producer at Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @aliyahjchavez or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many across the country are battling the aftermath of a Feb. 13 winter storm as nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S. are still without electricity or heat. The demand for power overwhelmed power grids unprepared for climate change.
Temperatures hovered in the single digits as snow and ice storms hit parts of Texas where winter temperatures seldom fall below 40 degrees.
The latest storm front was expected to bring more hardship to Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley before moving to the Northeast on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
“Most people here have electric stoves so there’s no way to heat or cook food; they heat their homes with electric heat, so there’s no heat,” said Ashley Fairbanks, White Earth Nation.
Originally from Minnesota, Fairbanks lives in San Antonio, where winter temperatures usually hover around 70-80 degrees. On Wednesday morning the temperature was around 28 degrees, she said.
“It got down to 6 degrees during the storm; the week before it was like 80 degrees,” she said
“The ice on roads finally melted today so we left the house in search of food. It really is like the end times out here.”
Customer lines at fast food establishments snaked around city blocks and half of San Antonio’s restaurants were closed; grocery stores have run out of essential food and many are closed, Fairbanks said.
“There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.
At least 30 people have died in the extreme weather this week, some while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide from car exhaust in their garage. Another perished as they used a fireplace to keep warm.
Record low temperatures were reported in city after city. Scientists say the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic, is increasingly spilling into lower latitudes and sticking around longer, and global warming caused by humans is partly responsible.
Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity. In Mexico, rolling blackouts Tuesday covered more than one-third of the country after the storms in Texas cut the supply of imported natural gas.
Tribes in Texas are working together and handling the challenges well, according to tribal leaders from the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, the Tigua Ysleta Del sur Pueblo and the Lipan Apache Tribe contacted by Indian Country Today.
“Native people are extremely resilient. We’re all kind of tired of the cold weather, but we’re hunkered down and staying warm; at first it was beautiful but now we’re kind of done,” said Christi Sullivan, director of media and communications for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.
About 600 of the 1,375 tribal citizens live on reservation land about 90 minutes north of Houston.
“We urged people to prepare for the weather before it hit; one of our main concerns is our elders. We are calling and checking in on everyone making sure they’re okay,” said Sullivan.
Fortunately, only a portion of the reservation has been hit by the rolling electricity blackouts.
“So far, everyone is safe,” Sullivan said.
The worst U.S. power outages by far have been in Texas, where officials requested 60 generators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and planned to prioritize hospitals and nursing homes.
The state opened 35 shelters to more than 1,000 occupants, the agency said.
Texas’ power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said electricity had been restored to 600,000 homes and businesses by Tuesday night. Many, however, remain without power.
The weather also caused major disruptions to water systems in the Texas cities of Houston, Fort Worth, Galveston, Corpus Christi and in Memphis, Tennessee, and Shreveport, Louisiana, where city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, KSLA News reported. In Houston, residents were told to boil their water — if they had power to do so — because of a major drop in water pressure linked to the weather.
In Abilene, Texas, firefighters were hampered by low water pressure as they tried to extinguish a house fire this week, the Abilene Reporter News reported.
“They had to watch that house burn,” City Manager Robert Hanna said Tuesday at a news conference.
“Last night we were lying in bed without power and we could hear emergency sirens going all night long,” Fairbanks said.
The Texas power blackouts could be a glimpse of the future as climate change intensifies winter extremes that overwhelm utility infrastructures unable to handle unseasonable demands, according to the New York Times.
“Hey, we’re not built for this,” said Robert Soto, vice chair of the Texas state recognized Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas.
The tribe’s headquarters is based in McAllen, just north of Reynosa, Mexico, and near the Gulf of Mexico.
“Homes here aren’t built to handle the cold; for us a cold front is around 60 degrees. With this storm it’s been in the single digits and the 20s,” he said.
Thankfully everyone is safe, according to Soto.
The greatest needs for the tribe now are food and water. “We’re delivering food and water when and where we can; we don’t have a lot of funds but we’re doing the best we can,” Soto said.
Temperatures are expected to rise to the 70s by the weekend.
“We’ll be enjoying life and happy again; in the meantime please keep us in your prayers.”
Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.
50 abandoned uranium mines + a mess = $220M from EPA
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced three contract awards for the clean-up of more than 50 abandoned uranium mine sites on the Navajo Nation
Haleigh Kochanski Cronkite News
WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it will award contracts worth up to $220 million to three companies for the cleanup of some of the hundreds of abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation.
Work could start later this year following the completion of assessments for mining sites coordinated between the EPA and the Navajo Nation’s environmental agency, the federal agency said.
This week’s announcement is just the latest in years of efforts to clean up the mines, the toxic legacy of Cold War mining in the region. More than 30 million tons of uranium ore were mined in the region, according to the EPA, which said more than 500 mines were ultimately abandoned.
“From World War II until the end of the Cold War, millions of tons of uranium were mined on Navajo lands, exposing mine workers and their families to deadly radiation,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Arizona, whose district includes the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation.
“As a result, high rates of cancer, birth defects, and contaminated water sources remain a reality for residents of the Navajo Nation even now,” O’Halleran said in a statement on the contracts.
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez released a statement following the announcement.
“The Navajo people have endured decades of radiation exposure and contamination caused by uranium mining and production that has taken the lives of many former miners and downwinders and continues to impact the health of our children,” Nez said. “We appreciate the U.S. EPA’s efforts to create incentives and opportunities for Navajo Nation residents by working with the contracted companies to develop training programs for our people and businesses to promote professional growth related to abandoned mine clean-ups.”
The tribe said the cleanup sites are in New Mexico’s Grants Mining District and in 10 chapters located on the Navajo Nation, which was the primary focus of uranium extraction and production activities for several decades beginning in the 1950’s.
The Navajo Area Abandoned Mine Remedial Construction and Services Contracts were awarded to contractors that are classified as small businesses, two of which are owned by Native Americans, the EPA said. Contracts were awarded to the Red Rock Remediation Joint Venture, Environmental Quality Management Inc. and Arrowhead Contracting Inc.
Terms of the contracts require the companies to develop training programs “for Navajo individuals and businesses to promote professional growth” in areas related to the cleanup work. The companies have also partnered with local businesses on the project, the EPA said.
The agency said it worked closely with Navajo Nation to develop contracts that would incentivize the creation of employment opportunities for Navajo residents in order to build local economic and institutional capacity.
The majority of funding for the contracts comes from a nearly $1 billion settlement made in 2015 with Kerr McGee Corp. for the cleanup of more than 50 mines in Nevada and on the Navajo Nation that the company and its successor, tronox, were responsible for.
From the late 1940s through the 1960s, Kerr-McGee mined more than 7 million tons of ore on or near the Navajo Nation, leaving behind uranium mine sites that included contaminated waste rock piles. Exposure to uranium in soil, dust, air, and groundwater, as well as through rock piles and structural materials used for building can pose risks to human health, according to the EPA.
Mining stopped for the most part decades ago, and the Navajo Nation banned uranium mining on its lands in 2005. But the cleanup effort has lingered. The EPA launched five-year programs in 2007 and 2014 to study the issue and identify the biggest risks, and the agency last year added abandoned Navajo uranium mines to its list of Superfund sites “targeted for immediate, intense action.”
Representatives of Indigenous environmental groups did not respond to requests for comment and an official with the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club said she was not familiar enough with the contracts to comment – but did express concerns that there is no federal standard for what mine cleanup entails.
A regional EPA official said that the “contract awards mark a significant step in this ongoing work.”
“EPA continues to work with the Navajo Nation EPA and local communities to address the legacy of abandoned uranium mines,” said Deborah Jordan, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Pacific Southwest office, in Thursday’s statement.
O’Halleran welcomed the announcement.
“I am glad to see my oversight efforts have pushed the EPA to make these critical investments,” he said in a statement Friday.