Company: Federal review no threat to uranium mill
The U.S. Department of Energy will conduct an in-depth analysis of the environmental effects of uranium mining and milling in southwestern Colorado.
The environmental impact statement will examine the effects of the Energy Department’s uranium-leasing program on 42 square miles of public land in what is known as the Uravan Mineral Belt.
Environmental organizations said that the decision represented a capitulation, but Energy Department officials said they decided to conduct the full review in hopes of completing it before companies begin mining.
The study won’t necessarily blunt progress toward a proposed uranium mill in the West End of Montrose County.
Energy Fuels Resources, which wants to build the mill, owns some leases in the area, but it has no immediate plans to do more than assessment and reclamation work in the next year, said Curtis Moore, the company’s director of communications and legal affairs.
“In many ways, this EIS could benefit us from a business standpoint,” Moore said. “Once we are ready to move forward with those mines, it should be easier to get them permitted” because the environmental study would be complete.
Federal officials are thinking along the same lines, said Laura Kilpatrick, program manager for the Energy Department.
“We’re starting to get to the point where lessees are getting serious about exploration and mining plans,” Kilpatrick said.
Uranium prices, however, haven’t reached the level at which they can justify full development, so the department can conduct the study without hampering development, Kilpatrick said.
“It seems like a perfect time to do it,” she said.
Several environmental organizations contend uranium mining and milling threatens to deplete and pollute Colorado River basin water.
“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 the Center for Native Ecosystems. “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, Center for Native Ecosystems, Center for Biological Diversity and Sheep Mountain Alliance sued the federal government in July 2008 for failing to analyze uranium-mining leases and failing to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species.
The Energy Department will accept public comment on the environmental impact statement until Sept. 9. Comments can be submitted online at http://ulpeis.anl.gov/involve/comments/index.cfm.
Comments also will be accepted at public meetings next month, beginning Aug. 8 in the Montrose Pavilion, 1800 Pavilion Drive, in Montrose. The second meeting will be Aug. 9 in the Sheridan Opera House, 110 N. Oak St., Telluride, followed by a meeting Aug. 10 in the Naturita Community Building, 411 W. Second St., and on Aug. 11 in the San Juan County Courthouse in Monticello, Utah, 117 S. Main St. All meetings will run from 6:30 to 9 p.m.