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For Immediate Release, 15 January 2010

Contact:  Travis Stills, Energy Minerals Law Center, (970) 259-8046
Joe Neuhof, Colorado Environmental Coalition, (970) 243-0002
Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Damien Borg, INFORM,

Uranium Mining Lawsuit Gets a Boost as Judge Unlocks Feds' Records

DURANGO, Colo.— A ruling handed down in federal court Thursday has significantly bolstered a legal challenge to the revival and expansion of uranium mining on public lands in the American West. U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel ruled yesterday that conservation groups could now question Department of Energy officials and obtain records connected to a 42-square-mile uranium leasing program that threatens water and wildlife in the Dolores and San Miguel rivers in western Colorado and eastern Utah.

“This is a big victory for the Dolores and San Miguel rivers and a good sign for our litigation,” said Travis Stills of the Durango-based Energy Minerals Law Center who is leading the litigation. “Chief Judge Daniel took a thorough look at the filings and agreed that this lawsuit brings a comprehensive challenge to the DOE’s failure to take a hard look at the effects of the uranium lease program, the issuance of uranium leases, and the approval of exploration and mining activity.”

The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Center for Native Ecosystems, and Center for Biological Diversity sued the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management in July 2008 for approving the program without analyzing the full environmental impacts that could come from individual uranium mining leases. The Energy Department has since issued leases without any additional review. Thursday’s ruling allows the groups to get information about those leases from the Department to use in their challenge of the entire program.

“The federal uranium-mining program has triggered a series of proposals, including the first uranium mill proposal in decades,” said Joe Neuhof of the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “We are pleased that this lawsuit will now move forward and provide an opportunity to require the federal government to disclose the serious impacts uranium mining will, and has, had on the people in western Colorado.”

“This ruling marks a critical step toward ending the Department of Energy’s shell game of avoiding environmental review,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Risking species, public lands, and scarce western water with irreversible uranium contamination is profoundly short-sighted – but that’s exactly what the Department of Energy has done.”

Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and threaten to pollute streams and rivers with toxic and radioactive waste products, including uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, vanadium, and zinc. These pollutants may contaminate rivers and aquatic ecosystems for hundreds of years following uranium mining, threatening downstream communities and fish and wildlife. Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium mining operations in the region has been implicated in the decline of the four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be impeding their recovery.

“Even small amounts of some of these pollutants, like selenium, can accumulate in the food chain and cause deformities and reproductive problems for endangered fishes, ducks, river otters and eagles,” said Josh Pollock of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “It is irresponsible for the Department of Energy to put fish and wildlife at risk by rushing to approve numerous uranium mines without adequate protections to prevent pollution.”

Since approving renewal and expansion of the uranium leasing program in 2007, and despite having sidestepped Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act requirements, the Department of Energy has executed dozens of new 10-year lease agreements. It also has authorized new and additional mining, without conducting specific analysis of the past, present or future impacts or uranium mining. Uranium tailings on Department of Energy leases and other tracts have already contaminated the Dolores and San Miguel River watersheds, heavily impacting water quality in both rivers. Proposed uranium mines and mills in the area, including the Whirlwind mine and the Paradox uranium mill, may also result in runoff and discharge of contaminants into the Dolores River basin.

The public lands impacted by the uranium leasing program –  which are co-managed by the Department and the Bureau of Land Management – are world-renowned for their unique and impressive mesas, canyons, arches, and wild sections of river that draw recreationists from around the world. The lands support cryptobiotic soils, vegetation, fish and wildlife, and form the Dolores River watershed, which flows into the Colorado River system on which millions of people and four critically endangered fish species depend.
“The Department of Energy’s actions are not only irresponsible, they risk devastating destruction to the biota for short-term gain,” said Damien Borg of INFORM. “This is reprehensible behavior and must not be tolerated.”

Today’s ruling.
Map of DOE uranium lease tracts in the Dolores and San Miguel River canyons and watersheds.
Record of telephone conference in which BLM states water depletion and toxic discharge may affect endangered fish in downstream.
DOE environmental checklist stating that threatened and endangered species may occur in the vicinity of uranium lease tracts.
Notice of Intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management Uranium Leasing Program.

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