Navajo Nation Prevails in Bankruptcy Case: May Gain Over a Billion Dollars for Uranium Cleanup

On Dec. 12, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly listened to a  report from Stephen Etsitty on uranium cleanup efforts on the Navajo Nation. Etsitty is the executive director of Navajo Environmental Protection Agency. (Photo by Rick Abasta)

On Dec. 12, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly listened to a report from Stephen Etsitty on uranium cleanup efforts on the Navajo Nation. Etsitty is the executive director of Navajo Environmental Protection Agency. (Photo by Rick Abasta)

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZONA — Navajo Nation Attorney General Harrison Tsosie announced on December 13, 2013 that the Navajo Nation has prevailed in its claims against Anadarko Petroleum Corporation and Kerr-McGee Corporation involving a number of former uranium mines and one former Kerr-McGee uranium processing site.

These sites were located in Cove, Arizona and Shiprock, New Mexico.

The decision was handled down on Thursday, December 12, 2012 by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan L. Gropper. His decision finds that Anadarko and Kerr-McGee are liable to the plaintiffs for damages, setting a range for such damages between $5.1 and $14.1 billion. The exact amount f damages will be determined after briefing by the parties. Tsosie stated,

The Navajo Nation is one of a number of claimants in the case. Other claimants include the United States, 22 states, four environmental response trusts and a trust for the benefit of certain tort plaintiffs.

“While we recognize the uncertainties of the appeal process and the long road that may be ahead of us, this is still a day of celebration for the Navajo Nation. A federal judge has issued a ruling that could result in over a billion dollars being made available for cleaning up some of the uranium contamination from past uranium mining and processing on the Navajo Nation,” stated Attorney General Harrison Tsosie.

“Our work in this bankruptcy case began when I was vice president and Louis Denetsosie was attorney general,” Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly said. “Any funds resulting from this lawsuit are welcomed and long overdue. The Navajo Nation Department of Justice and Navajo EPA worked together to bring this effort to finality,” President Shelly added.

The Shelly-Jim Administration has made mine cleanup a priority.

In April, Navajo Nation officials met with Allison Macfarlane, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission about prioritizing cleanups on the Navajo Nation.”

In the decision, Judge Allan L. Gropper found that the defendants Anadarko and Kerr-McGee acted to “hinder and delay” certain creditors, including the Navajo Nation, when Kerr-McGee “transferred out and then spun off” oil and gas assets, leaving the spin-off companies “insolvent and undercapitalized.”

Prior to the trial this group of environmental and tort claimants reached an agreement on how they would allocate any recovery in the lawsuit.

While the proceeds distribution formula is rather complicated, Tsosie noted that 88 percent of all proceeds go to the group of environmental creditors, including the Navajo Nation.

The remaining 12 percent will go to private tort creditors and for administrative expenses. Of the 88 percent distributed to environmental creditors, 23 percent will be available for use in cleaning up former Kerr-McGee abandoned uranium mines located on the Navajo Nation and the former Shiprock Mill site.

 

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