A newly signed uranium water monitoring law may ultimately prove too punitive for Colorado uranium in-situ leach miners, depending on the subsequent state regulations used to implement the law.
Nonetheless, Colorado's mining sector successfully fought another piece of legislation that would have allowed local governments to ban mining within their jurisdictions although the state government has been given the ultimate authority to permit and regulate mining in Colorado.
State representatives John Keflas and Randy Fischer and State Senators Steve Johnson and Bob Bacon-all representing Larimer County-sponsored the Land and Water Stewardship Act of 2008, after the group Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction collected thousands of signatures against the proposed Centennial in-situ leach mining project to be developed by Powertech Uranium Corp near the Colorado/Wyoming border. Permit applications are scheduled to be filed by Greenwood Village-based Powertech Uranium at the end of this year.
Project opponents asserted that hundreds of domestic wells surround the Centennial Project. The Greeley City and Fort Collins City Councils also opposed the project.
As he signed House Bill 1161 into law Tuesday, Gov. Bill Ritter said the bill strikes a good balance. It allows for in situ uranium leach mining while taking into consideration the need to protect both ground and surface water supplies.
When it comes to natural resources issues, we're doing all we can to strike that balance across the board, he added. Colorado is rich in minerals and energy resources such as oil, natural gas and coal. But we are also rich in environmental resources such as clean water, incredible wildlife and rugged mountains that must be protected.
Senator Johnson called the bill one of the important pieces of legislation ever for Northern Colorado. Representative Fischer insisted the bill is not intended to prevent or prohibit mining. It's simply a measure to make sure we have very stringent standards in place before mining can take place.
The legislation strengthens reclamation requirements and notification requirements to nearby landowners. Other elements of the legislation include:
· Requires that mining applicants not have any existing violations to the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Act or analogous acts issued by other states or the federal government.
· Requires a description of at least five such operations that demonstrate that the proposed operation will not contaminate groundwater outside the permit area.
· Requires a baseline site characterization and monitoring plan.
· Outlines the criteria for the Mined Land Reclamation Board to deny or revoke a permit for in situ leach uranium mining.
· Defines all uranium mining operations, whether in situ leach or conventional, as Designated Mining Operations, and requires permitted conventional operations to develop Environmental Protection Plans and contingency plans at their sites. Also expands oversight by the state Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety during construction.
Currently Colorado has 32 permitted conventional uranium operations in the state, three of which are in production, according to the Governor's Office.
In a statement to members of the Colorado news media, Powertech President and CEO Richard Clement said, Colorado has created a specialized regulatory regime for in situ uranium recovery that is the most restrictive of any states in the United States.
The Colorado Mining Association (CMA) Tuesday called for a return to rational discussion regarding in situ recovery of uranium in Colorado. ...CMA urges the regulatory agencies within the state of Colorado to carefully implement its provisions to accomplish the dual goals of protecting the environmental and promoting the development of minerals essential to meeting our nation and state's growing energy requirements.
Stuart Sanderson, CMA President, said, If we place unrealistic requirements on the uranium industry that is re-emerging in Colorado and the United States, we will find ourselves as dangerously reliant on foreign sources of uranium as we are dependent on foreign oil. We can't have nuclear energy without uranium mining, and it only makes sense to develop Colorado's substantial uranium reserves in accordance with a sound regulatory structure.
Sanderson said mining operators were already required to protect groundwater and the environment prior to the enactment of HB 1161. He added that in situ recovery is a technique commonly used in uranium mining, which minimizes surface disturbances and does not produce tailings.
There are rough edges, however, to HB 1161 that will require careful implementation by state regulators, he added. We will continue to work with regulators in future rulemakings to implement the complex provisions of House Bill 1161 and we will provide constructive recommendations to assist in the adoption of rules that will promote the twin goals of protecting the environment and providing for the orderly development of the state's mineral resources.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT MINING BAN BILL DEFEATED
Despite the in-situ uranium mining setback, Colorado miners still scored a significant victory when the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee voted to indefinitely postpone House Bill 08-1165, a bill which would have given local governments the power to override state laws and standards for environmental protection, and enact their own reclamation standards for mining operations.
CMA's Sanderson said, We believe that decisions on matters of statewide interest such as development of minerals should remain in the hands of technical experts with solid expertise and funding, rather than scattered through the various levels of local government. However, he also noted that the association continues to support local land use powers and had worked cooperatively with local governments to adopt mining ordinances that implement such authority.
CMA said the bill would have also banned a number of technologies essential to modern mining without enhancing environmental protections. ‘The bill would have replaced the current objective science-based decision making process for the regulations of mining with one based solely on local, subjective political judgment, Sanderson said.
House Bill 1165 would also have permitted local governments to ban any mining project outright, even if the permit applicant otherwise met all state, federal and local land use requirements, he added. It further would have established a disturbing precedent for banning other lawfully regulated businesses in Colorado.
The bill also sought to overrule a case pending in the Colorado Supreme Court, Colorado Mining Association v. Board of County Commissioners of Summit County, in which the mining association sought a judicial review of a Summit County land use resolution banning cyanide use in mining processes. Sanderson said the court will now have the opportunity to rule in CMA's appeal and render a final decision interpreting the scope of state and county government powers as they relate to mine regulation.