New Documents Show 42-square-mile Uranium-leasing Program Threatens Endangered Species and Rivers

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups
Contact: 

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (918) 310-6713
Joe Neuhof, Colorado Environmental Coalition, (970) 243-0002
Megan Mueller, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214
Damien Borg, INFORM, damien@informcolorado.org

New Documents Show 42-square-mile Uranium-leasing Program Threatens Endangered Species and Rivers

Conservation Groups Threaten Department of Energy With Additional Legal Action for Endangered Species Act Violations

DURANGO, Colorado - Today conservation groups notified the Department of Energy
and Bureau of Land Management that they intend to add claims of
Endangered Species Act violations to litigation challenging the
Department's 2007 decision to continue and expand its 42-square-mile
uranium leasing program on public lands around the Dolores and San
Miguel Rivers in western Colorado.

The groups are
the Center for Biological Diversity, Colorado Environmental Coalition,
Information Network for Responsible Mining, and Center for Native
Ecosystems.

Newly obtained documents reveal that
the Department of Energy failed to consider the impacts of water
depletion and contamination to threatened and endangered species -
including Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker , and humpback and
bonytail chubs - despite warnings from the Bureau of Land Management
that those threats exist. The notice of intent gives the agencies 60
days to remedy violations of the Endangered Species Act by initiating
formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider
the program's impacts on threatened and endangered species. In 2008,
the same groups filed a lawsuit
challenging other aspects of the Department of Energy's uranium-leasing
program. Should the agencies fail to act in response to today's notice,
conservation groups will add legal claims to their pending lawsuit.

"Risking species, public lands, and scarce western water with
irretrievable uranium contamination is profoundly short-sighted - but
that's exactly what the Department of Energy has done," said Taylor
McKinnon, public lands program director at the Center for Biological
Diversity. "The Department's choice now is to comply with the
Endangered Species Act or be sued for these new violations."

Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will
deplete Colorado River basin water and may pollute streams and rivers
with toxic and radioactive waste products, including uranium, selenium,
ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead,
manganese, vanadium, and zinc. These pollutants may contaminate rivers
and aquatic ecosystems for hundreds of years following uranium mining,
threatening downstream communities and fish and wildlife. Selenium and
arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned
uranium mining operations in the region has been implicated in the
decline of the four endangered Colorado River fish species, and may be
impeding their recovery.

"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 fishes, ducks, river otters, and eagles," said biologist
Megan Mueller of the Center for Native Ecosystems. "It is irresponsible
for the Department of Energy to put fish and wildlife at risk by
rushing to approve numerous uranium mines without adequate protections
to prevent pollution. "

Since approving the leasing
program in 2007, and despite having sidestepped Endangered Species Act
requirements, the Department of Energy has executed dozens of new
10-year lease agreements that effectively authorize new and additional
mining. Uranium tailings on Department lease and other tracts have
already contaminated the Dolores and San Miguel River watersheds
heavily impacting water quality in both rivers. Proposed uranium mines
and mills in the area (including the Whirlwind mine and the Paradox
uranium mill) may also result in runoff and discharge of contaminants
into the Dolores River basin.

"We hope the DOE will
do what's right in protecting the land, water and people from a massive
and flawed development plan rushed through by the Bush administration,"
said Joe Neuhof, West Slope director for the Colorado Environmental
Coalition. "This land has plenty of long-term value for its
recreational opportunities and wildlife so there is no reason to rush
ahead without properly assessing potential impacts."

The public lands impacted by the uranium leasing program - all of which
remain under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction - are
world-renowned for their unique and impressive mesas, canyons, arches,
and wild sections of river that draw recreationists from around the
world. The unique ecosystems support cryptobiotic soils, vegetation,
fish and wildlife, and the Dolores River watershed, which flows into
the Colorado River system on which millions of people and four
critically endangered fish species depend.

"The
Department of Energy's actions are not only irresponsible, they risk
devastating destruction to the biota for short-term gain," said Damien
Borg of INFORM. "This is reprehensible behavior and must not be
tolerated."

Downloads:

Record of telephone conference in which BLM states water depletion and toxic discharge may affect endangered fish in downstream.

DOE environmental checklist stating that threatened and endangered species may occur in the vicinity of uranium lease tracts.

Map of DOE uranium lease tracts in the Dolores and San Miguel River canyons and watersheds.

Notice of Intent to sue
for violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the
Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management Uranium Leasing
Program.

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