For Immediate Release March 26, 2015
||Sarah Fields, Uranium Watch, 435-210-0166
Jennifer Thurston, INFORM, 212-473-7717
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 801-300-2414
Anne Mariah Tapp, Grand Canyon Trust, 512-565-9906
Roger Flynn, Western Mining Action Project, 303-823-5738
Expansion of Four Utah Uranium Mines Halted
MOAB, Utah— In response to formal objections by Uranium Watch and other conservation groups, the Manti-La Sal National Forest on Tuesday halted plans to allow the uranium industry to expand the La Sal Mines Complex — a complex of four old uranium mines located in La Sal, Utah.
Citing violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws and regulations, Uranium Watch and four other conservation groups objected to the Forest Service’s draft approval of the plan. The large-scale expansion would include drilling 3,800 new exploration holes, dewatering an estimated 50 springs and a surface disturbance of more than 200 acres. The mines threaten radiological and heavy metal pollution of groundwater, soil, and air, putting wildlife and people at risk.
According to Sarah Fields, Uranium Watch program director: “The continued operation of the La Sal Mines Complex will cause increasing emissions of radon gas, a radioactive hazardous air pollutant, into the community. The USFS cannot claim that radon emissions only a quarter-mile from the La Sal Elementary School are safe.”
“Federal law requires that significant threats to human health and the environment posed by uranium mining be very carefully reviewed,” said Roger Flynn, attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, which represented Uranium Watch and other conservation groups in the case. “The Regional Office correctly determined that these mines cannot be approved without a much more comprehensive review, including the addition of required protective measures to safeguard the public.”
“The La Sal complex mines have a long and troubled history of neglect, safety violations and excessive impacts to human health and the environment,” said Jennifer Thurston, director of INFORM. “It is encouraging that the Forest Service will be taking a much closer look at these impacts in the next round. I hope we will eventually have a plan for these mines that provides more protection for residents, miners and the environment.”
Uranium ore mined from the La Sal Mines Complex will be trucked to the White Mesa Mill in San Juan County, Utah. In early 2014 the Grand Canyon Trust sued the owners of the White Mesa Mill for numerous violations of the Clean Air Act.
“Until the mill corrects its violations of laws designed to protect public and environmental health, the federal government should not allow the mill to receive and process new uranium shipments such as this one from the La Sal Mines Complex,” said Anne Mariah Tapp, energy program director for the Grand Canyon Trust.
Like thousands of uranium mines across the Four Corners region, the La Sal Mines Complex has been operating intermittently since the 1970s — opening and closing in response to uranium’s boom and bust cycle. Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., the owner of the mines and the White Mesa Mill, suspended operation of the mine in late 2012 with plans to resume mining when the market price of uranium ore rises. Inadequately regulated and abandoned uranium mines have left a toxic legacy of pollution across the Four Corners region.
“A deeper problem here involves federal agencies proposing new uranium mining when old pollution problems haven’t been fixed,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The feds’ first and only uranium-mining priority should be to repair the 70-year legacy of deadly pollution that’s still afflicting so much of the West.”
To download a copy of the Forest Service’s response to objections, click here and here.
The La Sal Mines Complex is made up of the Beaver Shaft on private land and the Pandora, La Sal and Snowball mines and Beaver Shaft waste-rock pile on Bureau of Land Management land. There are associated radon vents, exploration impacts and access roads on the nearby Manti-La Sal National Forest. The complex restarted in 2007, in response to the increase in the price of uranium and the decision to start processing ore at the White Mesa Mill. The mines will not be reclaimed in a timely manner because they are allowed to remain on standby for decades. The Beaver Shaft, near the town of La Sal, vents radon within one quarter-mile of the La Sal Elementary School. Dust from the uranium ore, waste rock and roads disperses into the community.
Roger Flynn and Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project represented conservation groups Uranium Watch, Living Rivers, the Information Network for Responsible Mining, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust.