State leaders wary of mercury in GJ

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Colorado’s congressional delegates have reservations about storing mercury in Grand Junction but hesitate to condemn the possibility.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall isn’t sure about keeping mercury in the state he represents.

“Although I support consolidation of this hazardous material, I have deep reservations about bringing it to Mesa County. If not handled carefully and properly, it could be very dangerous to the public’s heath and the environment,” Udall said.

He added his judgment on the matter will “be guided by what state and local authorities say about the proposal.”

Sen. Michael Bennet, also a Democrat, said the voices of authorities must be heard.

“We need to make sure local officials and area residents have the final say on any decision to transport and store hazardous materials near their communities,” he said.

“I am closely watching this situation, and my staff is involved in ongoing discussions with members of the local community to hear their thoughts and concerns on this proposal.”

Locals will have a chance to learn about the proposal and share their opinions about it from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. July 21 when the Energy Department hosts a scoping session at
Two Rivers Convention Center.

At first blush, the idea of storing mercury in Grand Junction didn’t sit well with U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a Manassa Democrat. However, he also wants to hear more before deciding.

“It seems to me that the existing site was built with the understanding that no hazardous materials would be stored there, so I’m not sure that bringing mercury makes any sense,” Salazar said, referring to the Grand Junction Disposal Site, a storage area built to hold mill tailings and related items.

“I will want to learn more about this proposal, but it doesn’t sound like a good idea,” he said.

Grand Junction is one of seven cities the Energy Department could assign in 2010 to hold mercury starting in 2013. The search for more mercury disposal locations began when Congress passed the Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008.

President Barack Obama introduced the act when he was a senator, and then-Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat,  was one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

The act outlaws the export or transfer by federal agencies of mercury and tasks the Energy Department with finding and managing a place or places to store mercury long-term.

The act requires the Secretary of Energy to submit a report to Congress by July 1, 2014, that proposes methods for minimizing potential negative effects of mercury storage and details how long-term storage will affect mercury recycling.


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