DENVER (AP) — A federal judge has ordered federal officials to stop approving exploration, mining and all other activities on 31 sites leased to uranium companies in Colorado.
U.S. District Judge William Martinez ruled Tuesday that U.S. Department of Energy officials violated environmental laws when they approved programs to mine uranium in Colorado.
According to the Denver Post, the ruling affects about 25,000 acres southwest of Grand Junction.
The ruling came in a lawsuit by five conservation groups that have sought to halt the leasing program. They say it threatens to pollute the Dolores and San Miguel rivers and harm endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River.
The decision means the federal government must analyze the impact renewed uranium mining and milling would have on air, land, water and people.
“This is a huge victory for public lands, rivers and wildlife in southwestern Colorado and a major setback for the uranium industry’s efforts to industrialize and pollute the Colorado Plateau,” said public-lands advocate Taylor McKinnon in a statement.
Energy Fuels Inc. spokesman Curtis Moore told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (http://bit.ly/nFOGLI) the Department of Energy was already planning to do the required review. Energy Fuels holds some of the leases in question and also is continuing to pursue approvals for a uranium mill in Montrose County
The ruling overturned the DOE’s 2007 finding that the leasing would have no significant environmental impact, and that a full environmental impact statement was not required. Extraction of uranium over 60 years has left Colorado and other Western states stuck with tainted water, tainted land and legal obligations to former workers and survivors.
DOE officials reconfigured lease tracts in 2007, then issued leases for 31 tracts in 2008 to six companies, including Cotter Corp., Golden Eagle Uranium, Energy Fuels Resources, Gold Eagle Mining, U.S. Uranium Corp. and Zenith Minerals.
The Uravan Mineral Belt stretching from western Colorado to Utah is considered one of the richest uranium deposits in the country. Ore from the area was used in the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. The DOE has estimated 13.5 million pounds of uranium ore could be extracted and began approving exploration plans on five lease tracts in 2009.
The DOE says it has not decided whether to appeal.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)