DOE plan: Continue uranium leasing program

The U.S. Department of Energy wants to continue a currently suspended program involving 25,000 acres of uranium lease tracts in Mesa, Montrose and San Miguel counties, according to a final environmental impact statement the agency released today.

The program covers 31 lease tracts, including 29 that are leased and two that are currently unleased. No mining is occurring on any of the leases now. The DOE’s preferred alternative in the final plan calls for continuing to manage the program involving the lease tracts for 10 more years or another reasonable period of time, the agency said in a news release.

It expects to issue a decision on the proposal no sooner than April 21.

The agency had considered other options including terminating all the leases.

The DOE previously conducted an environmental assessment for the program and determined an environmental impact statement wasn’t required. However, a federal judge ruled in a suit brought by conservation groups that the agency violated environmental law by failing to do an EIS.

The judge suspended the existing leases, barred issuing new ones and prevented further activity at 43 uranium and vanadium mines approved under the program until the new environmental review occurs. However, he later agreed to let DOE do work on the lands that is needed to complete that review, or that entailed mine reclamation or compliance with state and other regulatory agency requirements.

The leases are spread across about 40 square miles in the Uravan Mineral Belt. Conservationists contend the program threatens to pollute the Dolores and San Miguel rivers and to harm endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River.


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