The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Hilary White, Sheep Mountain Alliance, (970) 728-3729
Matt Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild, (303) 546-0214 x 1
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713

Public to Feds: No New Uranium Mining, Clean Up Mess


The public voiced strong opposition to new uranium mining at a series of regional public forums recently hosted by the Department of Energy focusing on its 42-square-mile uranium-leasing program in southwestern Colorado. Dozens told the department to prohibit new uranium mining and create new jobs by cleaning up pollution from past mining. The meetings in Telluride, Colo. and other towns added to a groundswell of opposition to uranium mining on western public lands, including those near Grand Canyon, in northwestern New Mexico and other parts of the United States.

The Department of Energy was asking for public comments on a new environmental impact statement, which it had launched to avoid a still-pending lawsuit from conservation groups challenging its 2007 approval of the uranium program. On June 11 the department concurrently published a Federal Register notice of the new environmental impact statement and filed a legal brief citing that same notice and asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit. The department claims the lawsuit and the new impact study are unrelated.

"Instead of promoting mining when DOE has plentiful uranium stockpiles, the public has requested DOE turn its focus to the environmental and economic benefits that would flow from requiring the immediate and comprehensive reclamation of 13 of the leased tracts," said Hillary White of Sheep Mountain Alliance. "This would require no federal monies as the reclamation responsibilities must be met by the private companies who leased these tracts."

Since approving the leasing program in 2007, and despite having sidestepped environmental laws, the Department of Energy has approved 31 lease agreements authorizing mining for 10 years. The program includes 13 previously active but unreclaimed uranium leases; uranium tailings have contaminated the Dolores and San Miguel river watersheds, affecting water quality and fish populations in both rivers.

"Pollution from uranium development can be fatal for people, fish and wildlife, and can last for hundreds and even thousands of years," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Department of Energy works for the public and the public is right to insist on reclamation rather than more uranium pollution. It's time for the government to start listening."

Uranium development threatens to further deplete and contaminate the Colorado River and its tributaries with toxic and radioactive waste products. Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium-mining operations has been implicated in the decline of the four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be impeding their recovery.

"The Dolores, San Miguel and Colorado rivers and watersheds are too precious to subject to another round of uranium contamination," said Matt Sandler of Rocky Mountain Wild. "Communities, hunters, fisherman and endangered species all depend on these waters. Their protection should be our first priority."

The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Center for Native Ecosystems (now Rocky Mountain Wild), Center for Biological Diversity and Sheep Mountain Alliance sued the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management in July 2008 for their 2007 approval of the leasing program after incomplete and absent National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act reviews. The groups are represented in that litigation by Travis Stills of the Energy Minerals Law Center and Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252