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For Immediate Release, October 10, 2012

Contact:    Matt Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 546-0214 x 1
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Hilary White, Sheep Mountain Alliance, (970) 728-3729

Judge Grants Wildlife Groups Voice in Colorado Uranium Mill Hearing

Uranium Mill Would Be First Licensed in United States in Three Decades

DENVER, Colo.— A Colorado judge has granted three conservation groups "party status" in public hearings slated to begin on Oct. 15 to determine the fate of the first new uranium mill to be considered for a license in the United States in more than 30 years. The Piñon Ridge mill is proposed for the Paradox Valley, in southwestern Colorado near the Dolores River. The groups join a growing list of parties that will participate in the hearing — including Sheep Mountain Alliance, the towns of Telluride, Ophir, and San Miguel County — owing to concerns about threats to air, water, wildlife and tourism.  

“This uranium mill and associated mining threaten a magnificent part of Colorado, many rare and imperiled species, and could result in contamination that will pollute our natural resources,” said Matt Sandler, a staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “The inadequate environmental analysis supporting this uranium mill development could turn a bad idea into an environmental disaster.”

The Piñon Ridge mill, proposed by the Canadian company Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. could process both uranium waste products and newly mined uranium ore from the company’s uranium mines in Colorado, Utah and northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon. The milling and associated mining threatens air, land, water and wildlife throughout the region with radiological and other toxic contamination. The region already suffers from a legacy of uranium pollution in contaminated aquifers, lakes, rivers, hundreds of abandoned mines and several Superfund sites.

“We welcome this public hearing as an opportunity to pit real science against the incomplete application and questionable claims from an industry which has a deplorable track record of both environmental destruction and disregard for public health,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “Our goal remains to protect the clean air and water of southwestern Colorado and ultimately the Colorado River.”

In response to litigation by Sheep Mountain Alliance, a Colorado court in June overturned the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s decision to license the mill because the agency had deprived the public of its right to formal hearings. The upcoming proceedings, a result of the judge’s orders, will give towns, counties, scientists, conservation groups and the public a chance to challenge the application, deemed both incomplete and inadequate to address both public-health and safety and environmental concerns.

“The Four Corners region already suffers from a deadly legacy of uranium pollution,” said Taylor McKinnon, Wildlands Program Director (formerly Public Lands Program Director) with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The uranium industry and public agencies need to focus on cleaning up that poisonous mess instead of causing more pollution with new uranium development.”

Uranium mining and milling 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 have been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be hampering their recovery. Wildlife groups are concerned that the mill and related mining operations will hurt threatened and endangered species, including migratory birds, bald and golden eagles, bats and deer.

Energy Fuels gained control of the majority of the Colorado Plateau’s uranium infrastructure this summer when it assumed ownership of Denison Mines’ Arizona and Utah mines and its uranium mill in Blanding, Utah — the only operating uranium mill in the country. The Piñon Ridge mill would become the nation’s second. Uranium development has faced stiff opposition in the region. In January the Obama administration protected 1 million acres around Grand Canyon from new mining, and in October 2011 a federal judge halted the Department of Energy’s 42-square-mile uranium-leasing program in southwestern Colorado.

The three conservation groups granted party status today are Rocky Mountain Wild, Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity.  The decision granting “party status” will allow the groups to play a heightened role at the upcoming hearing, including introducing evidence, testifying and cross-examining witnesses

Rocky Mountain Wild works to protect, connect and restore wildlife and wild lands of the Rocky Mountain region.

Sheep Mountain Alliance is a grassroots citizen organization dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment in the Telluride Region and Southwest Colorado. Sheep Mountain Alliance provides education for and protection of regional ecosystems, wildlife habitats and watersheds.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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