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U.S. EPA Settles with El Paso Natural Gas for Cleanup Costs at Abandoned Uranium Mines on Navajo Nation

Release Date: 11/23/2015
Contact Information: Margot Perez-Sullivan, 415-947-4149, perez-sullivan.margot@epa.gov

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Justice announced a settlement worth more than $500,000 with El Paso Natural Gas Company LLC, (EPNG) to reimburse government costs related to 19 abandoned uranium mines located on the Navajo Nation, near Cameron, Arizona.

Under the settlement terms, EPNG will reimburse the U.S. EPA $502,500, based on its share of field investigations of historical uranium contamination. EPNG, owned by Kinder Morgan, Inc., is a corporate successor to two mining companies that operated in the area from 1952 to 1961. The company operates one of the largest natural gas-pipeline systems in the country.

“This settlement pays back federal dollars spent on the critical first steps in dealing with the toxic legacy of abandoned uranium mines,” said Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld of EPA’s Pacific Southwest. “EPA will continue to aggressively pursue private parties responsible for contamination at over 500 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, as it did with El Paso Natural Gas.”

Currently, EPA is overseeing the work EPNG is performing at the 19 Cameron-area abandoned uranium mine sites under a 2013 administrative settlement agreement. In that agreement, EPNG committed to an assessment of radiation contamination, as well as the installation of security measures such as fencing and signage.

Mine waste has been exposed for decades at the Cameron abandoned uranium mines, located close to the Little Colorado River. EPA’s field surveys found the soil was contaminated by radioactive uranium and radium, two substances known to cause cancer. Land and water resources may be impaired by this waste material.

The settlement was lodged with the U.S. District Court in the District of Arizona and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The proposed consent decree can be viewed at: http://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees

Since 2007 federal agencies have invested more than $100 million, including $50 million from EPA to address the legacy of uranium mining impacts on the Navajo Nation. EPA has signed enforceable agreements with 8 potentially responsible parties and entered into settlements to assess or begin the cleanup of 93 mines. This includes the $1 billion share of the settlement the United States entered into with Tronox, Inc. to fund cleanups of over 50 abandoned uranium mines in and around the Navajo Nation. EPA has also provided over $9 million in funding to the Navajo EPA to support Navajo Nation participation and review of cleanup work.

For further information, including the 2014—2018 Five-Year Plan to address impacts of uranium contamination and a database of assessments of all 523 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region9/superfund/navajo-nation/

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