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Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships

Regional Programs: Arizona

In the Southwest, the Sierra Club's EJ program is focused on working with tribes and community groups to protect their resources from misuse and contamination via destructive industrial practices as well as to ensure the health and safety of local residents.

Organizer Robert Tohe is actively involved in a broad coalition of native groups whose aim is to prevent the resurgence of uranium mining in New Mexico and Arizona, where area residents still suffer from the health effects of past mining.

In addition, Robert has worked with tribes to protect the sacred mountains such as the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and Mt Taylor in New Mexico. An important part of his work involves safeguarding valuable water supplies against excessive industrial use.

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Arizona Environmental Justice Program
P.O. Box 38
Flagstaff, AZ 86002
Organizer: Robert Tohe

Recent Events

L-R Petuuche Gilbert, Laura Watchempino, Manny Pino, June Lorenzo, Sara Schultz, Americorps Vista member.

The Laguna Acoma Coalition for Safe Environment LACSE sponsored a successful public education outreach for the Pueblos of Acoma and
Laguna at an event called, "Think Outside the Mine:Uranium Mining and its Legacy." The weekend uranium film screening, took place Feb 25, 26, 2012, at the K’awaika Center Theatre, New Laguna, NM. The event attracted state wide groups fighting uranium mining, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power issues. Robert Tohe, Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer was on hand both days tabling with information and talking with community people about nuclear power, Grand Canyon Mineral Withdrawal, Clean Air Act, Clean Energy Investment for New Mexico.

Bud Ryan, producer for "The Forgotten Bomb," and Colleen Keane producer of 'The River That Harms," participated a panel discussion upon a screening of their documentaries. Other video documentaries shown included, "The Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area," "In Our Own Backyard," "Poison Wind," and "In the Light of Reverence."

From the recent July 16th organizing events in Churchrock and Gallup, New Mexico.  From left to right, Robert Tohe, Romilly Tsinhnahjinnie, Tomoyo Tamayama, Leona Morgan, Laura Wathempino, Shri Prakash
From the recent July 16th organizing events in Churchrock and Gallup, New Mexico. From left to right, Robert Tohe, Romilly Tsinhnahjinnie, Tomoyo Tamayama, Leona Morgan, Laura Wathempino, Shri Prakash

Uranium Legacy Remembrance Day

The first event, the "Uranium Legacy Remembrance Day" took place outside of Church Rock where the largest radioactive spill site occured in U.S. history. The Uranium Remembrance Day started at 7 a.m. with a prayer at Teddy Nez's home on Red Water Pond Road. People then marched to the site of the spill. Numerous elected officials and community leaders including, Representative Ben Ray Luján and Navajo Nation President, Ben Shelly spoke about the health and environmental effects of the uranium and reaffirmed their positions against uranium mining on Navajo Reservation.

Thirty two years ago on July 16, 1979, United Nuclear Corporation's dam broke in what is now known as the Church Rock disaster. More than 93 million gallons of liquid toxic waste and 1,110 tons of radioactive tailings were released into the Puerco River in Church Rock, N.M. Thousands of residents live with the lasting effects from this radioactive spill to this day. Teddy Nez and the Red Water Pond Road Association have been working on remediation and healing from this catastrophe since that time.

Making Waves

"Making Waves," the second event, addressed the full nuclear fuel cycle present in New Mexico and the resulting radioactive contamination. The event was hosted by the MultiCultural Alliance for Safe Environment and the Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program. "We are organizing this event to educate the public about the dangers of uranium mining and nuclear industry in the Southwest," says Leona Morgan, co-organizer of the event and the Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining Coordinator. "New Mexico holds an important and unique place in the nuclear fuel cycle. Unfortunately the nuclear industry has wreaked havoc on Southwestern communities; from weapons development and storage to uranium mining, milling, enrichment and disposal for more than 60 years. There are hundreds of families in New Mexico who have suffered health and environmental effects from the nuclear cycle and nuclear proliferation."

New Mexico is home to Los Alamos National Labs, Sandia National Labs, Uranium Enrichment Plant (URENCO), Kirtland Air Force Base (AFB), Holloman AFB, Cannon AFB, the Trinity Site, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Project. In addition, there are numerous active and abandoned uranium mines and mills in all Four Corners states; New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. "Making Waves" will include screenings of short films and a panel discussion. Panelists include Robert Tohe from the Sierra Club's Environmental Justice (EJ) office and Laura Watchempino from the Pueblo of Acoma. Tohe's program works with tribes and community groups to protect their resources from contamination. Watchempino has worked for her tribe protecting and managing tribal water resources. She served as attorney for Indian Pueblo Legal Services in New Mexico in the 1980s and is currently working on the designation of nuclear free zones to combat the proliferation of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining and processing to the long-term disposal of the toxic radioactive wastes generated. Watchempino states that every part of the cycle poses dangers to the surrounding water, air, soil, human health and other life forms.

Organizers of these events are currently addressing requests for permits for uranium mining in and around the Grants mineral belt and stand united that they should not be granted in the aftermath of the health and environmental devastation in New Mexico. These groups are committed to see the United States transition from dirty and unsafe energy sources into renewable energy and embrace a clean and safe future. These events are organized by members of the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment.

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