Farmington — The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that a $5.15 billion settlement has been reached over fraudulent conveyance claims against Kerr-McGee Corp. and Anadarko Petroleum Corp.
More than $1 billion of the settlement will be directed to the Navajo Nation.
In December, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan Gropper of the Southern District of New York issued a decision after a 34-day trial. Gropper's decision stated Anadarko was liable for billions of dollars in environmental cleanup costs, including at uranium mines and mills that were once operated on the Navajo Nation by Kerr-McGee.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Kerr-McGee operated uranium mines on the reservation, including in the Cove and Red Valley chapters in Arizona and on the Quivira mining site in Church Rock, N.M.
Under the settlement, about $985 million will be paid to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund clean up of about 50 abandoned uranium mines in and around the reservation, according to a release from the Department of Justice.
In addition to that, the tribe will receive more than $43 million to address radioactive waste left at the former Kerr-McGee uranium mill in Shiprock.
Stephen Etsitty, executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency in Window Rock, Ariz., called the settlement "historic," even though he added that it still needs the court's approval.
"It is a great achievement to reach this proposed settlement," Etsitty said. "It is welcomed and long overdue."
He added the settlement would provide needed resources, and the tribal environmental agency will work with the EPA to address clean up activities.
"While this settlement will ease some of the burden of the costs, this settlement is no way enough to address all of our concerns and our desires to restore our natural resources and improve our public health conditions that are impacted by uranium mining and processing," said Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly in a press release from the U.S. EPA.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., both welcomed the settlement in statements released by their offices.
"This settlement is a big step forward, but even decades after mining operations closed up shop, we still don't know the full scope of contamination," Udall said. "It remains a monumental injustice, and I will closely follow the progress of cleanup conducted with these funds and help the Navajo Nation continue the fight until the job is done."
The settlement also authorizes $1.1 billion be paid to a trust for the clean up of a former chemical manufacturing site in Nevada that led to contamination in Lake Mead.
Other sites that will receive funding for clean up activities are located in Columbus, Miss., Gloucester, N.J., and Manville, N.J.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.