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For Immediate Release, February 29, 2012

Contacts:  Hilary White, Sheep Mountain Alliance, (970) 729-2321
Jennifer Thurston, INFORM, (212) 473-7717
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713

Judge Upholds Suspension of Uranium Leasing Program on 42 Square Miles in Colorado

TELLURIDE, Colo.— A federal judge has largely denied a U.S. Department of Energy request to revisit an injunction suspending its uranium leasing program on 42 square miles in Colorado that threatened public lands, water and wildlife near the Dolores and San Miguel rivers. In October Judge William J. Martinez enjoined the program because the department violated environmental laws. In a ruling Monday, Judge Martinez allowed 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."

In response to a 2008 lawsuit by five environmental groups, Martinez in October invalidated the department’s approval of the program; 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, Wildlands Program Director (formerly Public Lands Program 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.”

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. “We went to court seeking a genuine analysis because we fully understand the legacy of past uranium busts and what harm has been done to communities and the environment. We rely on the DOE and other agencies to fully review a resurgent uranium industry before we keep plowing ahead."

The Sheep Mountain Alliance, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Rocky Mountain Wild 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 from individual uranium-mining leases spread across 25,000 acres, as well as for failing to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species prior to authorizing the program. The department refused to conduct a full “environmental impact statement” analysis in 2008, instead issuing a “finding of no significant impact,” which was also struck down as part of the October ruling.

Plaintiffs were represented by attorneys Travis Stills of the Energy Minerals Law Center, Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project and Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Download a copy of the October ruling here.
Download a copy of this week’s ruling here.

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