Uranium mill ruling puts permit decision in state agency’s hands

State regulators now have a court-ordered review of arguments for and against a proposed uranium mill in Montrose County to consider in deciding whether to reissue a license for the mill.

Judge Richard Dana on Monday ruled that a weeklong hearing he conducted in Nucla in November satisfied legal requirements for public discussion of Energy Fuels Inc.‘s application to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for a radioactive materials-handling permit for the mill, which is to be constructed near Naturita.

Environmental organizations challenged the license last year in Denver District Court. A judge invalidated the license and ordered a public hearing in which witnesses could be cross-examined.

The hearing was “an intermediate step in CDPHE’s consideration” of the application, Dana wrote in his finding, noting that none of his findings amounted to a final agency decision.

With Dana’s rulings, “It’s clear that the process met the requirements” set by the Denver judge, Warren Smith, spokesman for the health department, said.

Dana “found there’s no reason to reopen the hearing or restart the application process, so we’re on track to continue evaluating the application and consider all the evidence.”

The health department is to decide by April 30 whether to reissue the license.

Energy Fuels and Sheep Mountain Alliance, which sued to halt the license, both said they were pleased with the ruling.

Dana’s order “is clear: There was no recommendation for its approval,” said Hilary White, executive director of the Sheep Mountain Alliance, predicting that the health department ultimately will reject the mill.

That, however, wasn’t Dana’s job, Energy Fuels spokesman Curtis Moore said.

“The whole purpose was to gather additional evidence and allow for cross-examination of witnesses. It wasn’t this judge’s job to recommend approval or denial.”

Dana did note that complaints that regulators were too close to company officials were unmerited.

“Informality in the relationship between a regulated party and the regulator may simply indicate civility,” Dana wrote. The evidence does not reflect “a bias in the behavior of CDPHE or its employees.”

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