April 22, 2019

$220M Available to Small Businesses to Clean Up Navajo Uranium Mines

The funding comes from a $1.7 billion settlement from a company that mined the region.

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The federal government seeks proposals from businesses to clean up abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. But some say Navajo-owned businesses aren't big enough to handle the project.

The EPA plans to parse out $220 million to multiple "small businesses." But the federal government's definition of "small" is 750 or fewer employees. That's huge by Navajo standards.

Adolfo Vasquez, a federal contract counselor, advised people who attended a recent EPA-sponsored "Industry Day" in Window Rock.

"I know there are remediation businesses that are Navajo," Vasquez said. "Whether they can handle the entire project ... contracting officers and the federal government like turn-key operations."

Vasquez said the EPA cannot legally prioritize Navajo-owned businesses but they can give priority to a business that hires Navajos.

The funding comes from a $1.7 billion settlement with Tronox, the successor of Kerr-McGee, a company that mined the region.

During the Cold War companies extracted nearly 30 million tons of uranium from Navajo land. The EPA said it has funding to assess and clean up about 220 of the more than 520 abandoned mines.

Contract proposals are due May 28.

Fronteras Desk
This story is from the Fronteras Desk, a collaboration of Southwestern public radio stations, including NPR 89.1. Read more from the Fronteras Desk.
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