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Summit County Citizens Voice , March 4, 2012

Uranium leasing still on hold in SW Colorado
Federal judge stick to his guns, says feds must study and disclose potential impacts before leasing

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — A federal judge in Colorado continues to insist that the Department of Energy must evaluate and disclose site-specific impacts of potential uranium mining operations before resuming a leasing program in the southwestern part of the state.

The leasing program was challenged by five environmental groups; in October 2011, U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez ruled that the U.S. Department of Energy acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” by failing to analyze site-specific impacts when it approved a highly speculative leasing program on 42 square miles of federal land in Mesa, Montrose and San Miguel counties that could potentially threaten water quality.

This week, Martinez largely denied a U.S. Department of Energy request to revisit the injunction. Martinez said he would allow for “absolutely necessary” activities like reclamation but denied the department’s broader request to revisit the injunction.

“This is a welcome ruling from the court because it sends a strong message that the injunction was fully necessary in order to uphold the law and protect the environment,” said Hillary White, executive director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance. “The DOE’s request for the injunction to be lifted was denied because it was improper and premature. They must conduct the full analysis required by law, and we are pleased that the court is signaling so strongly that the law must be obeyed.”

The October ruling suspended each of the program’s 31 existing leases; enjoined the department from issuing any new leases; and enjoined any further exploration, drilling or mining activity at all 43 mining sites approved under the program. The department was ordered to complete new environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.

“The Department of Energy’s legal shenanigans are tired. It’s time they spent their time embracing rather than avoiding their duty to follow the law and protect our environment,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The uranium leasing program threatens two of the West’s loveliest little rivers — these places deserve utmost caution, not bombastic haste.”

Conservation groups are concerned that uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and threaten to pollute rivers with uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, vanadium and zinc.

Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium-mining operations has been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species (the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail chub) and may be impeding their recovery.

“The Department of Energy now has an opportunity to take the time to restart the process for conducting a thorough and complete PEIS and providing a full disclosure of the cumulative impacts of uranium mining and milling on the Colorado Plateau,” said Jennifer Thurston, director of the Information Network for Responsible Mining.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton