The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is being asked to rule if Hydro Resources' Crownpoint Uranium Solution Mining Project should be treated as Indian land.
Although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a license to the project a decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled last year that an area where the company wants to develop in-situ uranium leach mines is within Indian Country.
In the late 1980s, Hydro sought an underground injection control permit for its property located in the checkerboard area of the Eastern Navajo Agency, within the borders of the State of New Mexico. The EPA said Hydro Resources must get a groundwater injection permit from the EPA.
The underlying issue is whether EPA or the State of New Mexico is the appropriate agency to consider the injection permit for the land. The State of New Mexico and Hydro Resources challenged the EPA's determination and asked for a judicial review of the EPA's decision.
EPA Solicitor has found that that the land section is located within the Church Rock Chapter of the Navajo Nation. Joe Shirley, President of the Navajo Nation, has repeatedly declared the opposition of the Navajo opposition to uranium mining on or near their lands.
In testimony last March before a U.S. Senate committee, Shirley said the Navajo also reject in situ leach mining.
Hydro Resources attorney Marc Flic told the appellant court that the company's land isn't legally part of the reservation and should be considered private land. The judges also heard an appeal from citizens groups who are worried about the project's potential impact on the area's drinking water.
Rick Van Horn, COO for Hydro Resources parent Uranium Resources Inc., has told the press, We are committed to getting this job done. We've been working on this for a long time. We believe we are in compliance with all regulations.
The Navajo communities of Crown Point and Church Rock, New Mexico, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining and Southwest Research and Information Center have challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for a source materials permit for an in situ leach uranium mine at all four sites being developed by Hydro Resources.
Eric Jantz, New Mexico Environmental Law Center attorney, said, We are talking about the land, water, air and health or two whole communities. There are people on this land grazing their cattle and hauling their daily drinking water.
The environmental NGOs claim the NRC has violated the Atomic Energy Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and its own regulations when it issued its decision.