Don’t put mercury here, Mr. President

It’s not clear what the temperature will be in the Grand Valley next Saturday when President Barack Obama arrives for a visit, but there’s a good chance that mercury will be rising.

That is, the question of establishing a federal mercury storage facility at a site south of Whitewater is likely to be broached with the president, either in private or during the public part of his visit. We hope he pays serious attention to the bipartisan opposition to placing the facility here.

It’s not often that Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter is on the same page as local Republican lawmakers, Sen. Josh Penry and Reps. Steve King and Laura Bradford. But all four have voiced their opposition to placing the mercury disposal site in Mesa County, due to concerns about potential environmental damage. And 3rd District Congressman John Salazar is said to have “serious concerns” about the proposal, as well.

We have made our opposition to the plan known on several occasions. In addition to real environmental concerns, we believe storing mercury on that federal site would be a violation of the promises made to this community 20 years ago when the Department of Energy approved the site for disposing of low-level radioactive waste from this area. Additionally, it would make it easier to use that site to dispose of other forms of hazardous materials from other parts of the country.

Obama has more than a passing knowledge of this issue, since he sponsored the 2008 legislation that prevented mercury from being exported to other nations and led to the federal search for a permanent disposal site for an estimated 17,000 tons of mercury.

And, no doubt the president will hear from politicians in the other states being considered for such a site with reasons why their states shouldn’t be selected. But there are sufficient environmental and legal reasons to strike Mesa County off the list. Obama should make certain that federal officials looking for a mercury disposal site pay attention to them.


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