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Navajo Nation cleaning up storage tank sites
Monday, January 26, 2004

Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. signed a contract on Friday to start the cleanup of dozens of underground storage tanks, a problem faced throughout Indian Country.

The tribe's Environmental Protection Agency estimates there are more than 77 abandoned sites on the reservation that need action. The contract that Shirley signed with Iina' ba' Incorporated, a Navajo-owned business based in Shiprock, New Mexico, focuses on 21 locations.

Tribal officials said the work satisfies two important goals. Removing the tanks keeps groundwater safe for thousands who depend on it. And the cleanup makes the sites more attractive to businesses.

"Economic development and a clean, healthy environment are essential to the Navajo Nation," Shirley said.

"We would rather have a potential business developer reuse a business site that does not have any abandoned underground storage tanks," added Allen Begay, the head of the tribe's Division of Economic Development. "Overall, it encourages the small business person to consider doing business on the Navajo Nation."

Nationwide, underground storage tanks pose a number of concerns for tribes. Petroleum and other toxic substances contained in the fuel can contaminate groundwater. There is also the potential for fire and explosion.

In recent years, there has been progress in ensuring health and safety on reservations, according to the federal government. Based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics, the number of active tank sites has dropped dramatically from 1995 to 2001 while the number of closed, or clean, sites has risen.

In 2002, one region of the EPA alone oversaw cleanup efforts at more than 100 tanks on reservations. One site was in Tuba City, Arizona, where a non-Indian company's tank leaked, threatening water on both the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

For the fiscal year ending September 2003, EPA reported more than 1,000 confirmed leaks of storage tanks in Indian Country. Cleanup actions were started at 945 sites and cleanup was completed at 592 sites.

One region in particular saw a high number of confirmed leaks. According to the EPA, there were more than 400 leaks on reservations in region 8, which covers the states of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.

Region 8 and Region 9 -- which covers tribes in the states of Arizona, California and Nevada -- have the highest number of active tanks and closed tanks. Region 5 -- covering tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio -- also saw significant activity last year, the EPA reported.

Funding for underground storage tank cleanup in Indian Country comes primarily from the federal government. EPA is authorized to use federal funds because tribes can't tap directly into the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Trust Fund that was set up by federal law. LUST is financed by a 0.1 cent tax on each gallon of motor fuel sold nationwide.

Some tribes use their own funds for cleanup activities. The Navajo Nation through the Underground Storage Tank Act of 1998, collects fees from owners and operators of tanks. The law imposes a comprehensive set of regulations for tanks on the reservation.

Relevant Documents:
FY 2003 Semi-Annual End-of-Year Activity Report on Underground Storage Tanks (November 25, 2003) | Navajo Nation Underground Storage Tank Act of 1998

Relevant Links:
Navajo Nation EPA - http://www.navajoepa.org
EPA Underground Storage Tanks - http://www.epa.gov/swerust1/index.htm

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