Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

October 19, 2011

Federal Judge Halts Uranium Leasing Program in Colorado

Dolores River
Federal Judge Halts 42-Square-Mile Uranium Leasing Program in Colorado

Sweeping Ruling Suspends All Drilling, Mining, Exploration, Existing and Future Leasing
Press statement
Posted at Censored News
TELLURIDE, Colo. -- In a major victory for clean air, clean water and endangered species on public lands, a federal judge on Tuesday halted the Department of    Energy’s 42-square-mile uranium-leasing program that threatened the Dolores and San Miguel rivers in southwestern Colorado. Five conservation groups had sued to halt the leasing program, charging that the Department of Energy was failing to adequately protect the environment or analyze the full impacts of renewed uranium mining on public lands.
“We are pleased that Judge Martinez agreed with the groups, as well as local    governments, who have been requesting the federal government take responsible steps to disclose the full range of impacts of mining uranium on public lands in combination with the impacts from Energy Fuels’ proposed uranium mill,” said Hilary White, executive director of  Sheep Mountain Alliance. “This is an important ruling that will help ensure that any uranium mining and milling that may take place in the Dolores River watershed is protective of the environment and human health. We look forward to the Environmental Protection Agency’s leadership in disclosing the full impacts of    uranium activity in this important watershed.”
The 53-page ruling invalidates the Department’s approval of the program; suspends each of the program’s 31 existing leases; enjoins the Department from issuing any new leases; and enjoins any further exploration, drilling or mining activity at all 43 mines approved under the program pending satisfactory completion of new environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.
“This is a huge victory for public lands, rivers and wildlife in southwestern Colorado and a major setback for the uranium industry’s efforts to industrialize and    pollute the Colorado Plateau,” said Taylor McKinnon, public-lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Department of Energy has thumbed its nose at environmental laws for too long; today’s ruling is a big course correction.”
Conservation groups challenged the Department's current leasing program for not    complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. In July the Department attempted to thwart the lawsuit by initiating a new “environmental impact statement” for the program but continued to administer the program under its prior flawed approval.
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 ColoradoRiver basin from abandoned    uranium-mining operations have been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be impeding their recovery.
“Even  small amounts of some of these pollutants, like selenium, can poison fish,    accumulate in the food chain and cause deformities and reproductive problems for endangered fish, ducks, river otters and eagles,” said Josh Pollock of Rocky Mountain Wild. “It is irresponsible for the  Department of Energy to put fish and wildlife at risk by allowing uranium leases without adequate analysis of necessary protections to prevent pollution.”
The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Rocky Mountain Wild, Center for Biological Diversity and Sheep Mountain Alliance 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 over 20,000 acres and for failing to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species prior to authorizing the program. The Department refused to conduct a full EIS analysis in 2008, instead issuing a FONSI    (“finding of no significant impact”), which was also struck  down as part of the court ruling.
Plaintiffs  were represented by attorneys Travis Stills of the Energy MineralsLaw Center, Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project and Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity.
Hilary White, SheepMountain Alliance, (970) 729-2321
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Josh Pollock, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 546-0214 x 2

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