PRESS RELEASE: Colorado Judge Rules Against Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill License

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 18, 2018

Contacts:

Travis Stills, Energy & Conservation Law, stills@frontier.net, 970-375-9271
Lexi Tuddenham, Sheep Mountain Alliance, lexi@sheepmountainalliance.org, 617-285-4715
Matt Sandler, Rocky Mountain Wild, matt@rockymountainwild.org, 303-579-5162
Dr. Robert L. Grossman, robert.grossman@colorado.edu, 970-901-6717

Colorado Judge Rules Against Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill License

Ruling cites groundwater contamination, inadequate water supply, wildlife impacts, and wind dispersion of radioactive materials.

Judge Richard W. Dana ruled Tuesday that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) should deny the application for the Piñon Ridge uranium mill license. The ruling confirmed that Energy Fuels Inc. failed to prove that it could safely build and operate a uranium mill in the Paradox Valley, near the Dolores River in Western Colorado

Judge Dana’s ruling concluded that Energy Fuels Inc. failed to demonstrate protection for animals, plants and birds near the proposed mill site. The company also failed to prove how it would limit the wind dispersion of radioactive materials; how it would limit contamination of ground water; and how adequate water to operate the mill and tailings ponds would be provided.

“From the very beginning, our members were committed to seeing an objective scientific review of this proposal to ensure the protection of our environment from the well-known negative impacts of uranium mining and milling,” said Lexi Tuddenham, Executive Director of Sheep Mountain Alliance.  “In the intervening years since this case began, the innovative, hard-working residents of this region have worked to create a stronger and more diversified economic future for themselves without the mill. This decision helps to protect that future, moving us beyond a Cold War industry that contaminated our rivers and streams, created unconscionable public health impacts, and left behind a huge mess for taxpayers to clean up.”

“We were extremely concerned with the impacts that a new uranium mill would have on the delicate sagebrush ecosystem of the Paradox Valley, and the impacts downstream to endangered Colorado River fish,” said Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “Those impacts were simply unacceptable and the trade-offs for the public were dismal. We’re happy to know that corporations who want to revive the uranium industry in Colorado will be required to fully comply with the laws aimed at protecting the environment.”

Energy Fuels, Inc., a Canadian corporation, used a U.S.-based subsidiary to apply for a uranium mill license in 2009. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) approved the license in 2011 after conducting its own environmental analysis. However, a state judge invalidated the 2011 license after CDPHE refused to hold a licensing hearing required by law.  The Court sent the license back to CDPHE for a proper hearing.

At the five-day hearing in November 2012, Judge Dana heard evidence from community and environmental groups that raised serious concerns over the inadequacy of the mill’s design; its impacts on wildlife, water and the environment; as well as the negative economic impacts of reviving an industry that lacked viability due to the high cost of mining and milling the region’s low-grade sandstone deposits.  Dozens of area residents also submitted formal comments opposing the mill on the record.

“It’s time for the State of Colorado to comply with this ruling and finally rescind the license for the Piñon Ridge Mill,” said Dr. Robert L. Grossman, a retired meteorologist, unchallenged expert witness, and resident of Norwood, Colorado, who was the only private citizen party in the 2012 hearing. “The mill would have a serious impact on air quality in the region mainly due to the release of radioactive dust particles that would impact local residents and downstream farms, ranches, and towns.”

“In a region already riddled by thousands of abandoned uranium mines, this ruling is good news,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Until that radioactive mess is cleaned up, no new uranium development—including this mill—should happen.”

Numerous organizations, individuals, and local governments participated in the hearing, including a coalition that included Center for Biological Diversity and Colorado Environmental Coalition (now called Conservation Colorado). Sheep Mountain Alliance and Rocky Mountain Wild participated in that coalition and also brought the State Court lawsuit that resulted in the most recent order.  The groups were represented by Jeff Parsons (Western Mining Action Project), Travis Stills (Energy & Conservation Law) and Matt Sandler (Rocky Mountain Wild).

“The ruling was based on Judge Dana’s careful consideration of five days of testimony and considerable evidence provided by the public and the parties during the hearing we obtained only after suing CDPHE,” said Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy and Conservation Law, in Durango. “Although CDPHE still has a formal step in the process, Judge Dana’s ruling leaves CDPHE with little choice except to deny the license.”

The license decision is available online here:  https://environmentalrecords.colorado.gov/HPRMWebDrawerHM/RecordView/410568

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