Uranium leasing gains federal go-ahead

by Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer

In late March, the Department of Energy (DOE) released its Uranium Leasing Program Final Environ-mental Impact Statement (PEIS), a document that governs future uranium mining across 26,000 acres of public land in San Miguel, Montrose and Mesa Counties.

Despite hundreds of comments from the public, the Final PEIS is hardly different from the Draft EIS released one year ago, and recommends a full renewal of the program.

The DOE analyzed four alternatives and has chosen to support No. 4, which would continue the uranium leasing program across 31 tracts for the next 10 years, or “another reasonable period.”  This alternative could result in 19 new mines operating across the region simultaneously.

This decision will not be final until the DOE issues their Record of Decision later this month.

Needless to say, WCC and our allies are extremely disappointed by the DOE’s recommendation. Throughout the public comment period, dozens of members turned out to hearings, and many more submitted written comments expressing their concerns about air and water quality, impacts to the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers, as well as the socio-economic impacts and lack of cleanup of existing mines.

Many of our comments were considered “outside the scope” of the PEIS despite the legitimacy of the issues we raised.

To add insult to injury, the DOE decided to forego any public comment period on the Final PEIS, denying the public opportunity to weigh-in before the final decision. Despite this maneuver, WCC again expressed our concerns about a revival of uranium mining to both the DOE and US Environmental Protection Agency.

We also reiterated our commitment to working towards a “Clean Alternative” that would focus on the cleanup of all abandoned mines in Western Colorado and the development our potential as a renewable energy provider.  WCC members know that the future of our region lies not in the boom and busts of uranium markets, but in building an economy based on agriculture, recreation and renewable energy.

WCC and our allies will continue to work together to make this future possible. Stay tuned for next steps!

State passes new uranium regulations

After months of negotiations, Senate Bill (SB) 192, the Uranium Processing Groundwater Protection Act, passed the Colorado Senate on the last day of the legislative session.  As of this writing, it is on its way to Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

A common sense bill, SB 192 will strengthen uranium cleanup regulations, improve the public involvement in the mill licensing process, and protect our state’s groundwater.

Specifically, SB 192 will require uranium operations to actively clean up contaminated groundwater back to the same quality level it had before milling, increase spill reporting requirements, and increase the public’s role in how uranium mills are licensed.

This new law will not only rectify 30 years of groundwater contamination by Cotter Corporation in Cañon City, but will place much stricter requirements on any future mills, including the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Montrose County.

Although there is more work to do to hold uranium development in Colorado to the highest standards possible, WCC and our allies across the state hail this legislation as a strong step in the right direction.

WCC’s Uranium and Legislative Committees tracked SB 192 throughout the legislative session, and actively lobbied on its behalf on our recent lobby trip to Denver. Unfortunately, to pass the Senate, the bill was amended to remove a section that would protect Colorado from future experimental “uranium procurement” technologies such as ablation (an unproven, water intensive technology often referred to as “fracking for uranium”).

Despite this setback, we continued to back the bill, making many calls to West Slope Senators asking for their support.  As a result of this grassroots effort, WCC members and our allies across the state kept SB 192 alive and ensured its passage through the Senate.

Many thanks to everyone who made calls and helped protect the future of Colorado’s groundwater!

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