Communities, conservation groups prevail in lawsuit against Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Communities and conservation groups in southwestern Colorado won a huge court victory this week, as a Denver District Court judge invalidated a state license for the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill.
Judge John N. McMullen ruled June 13 that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment erred by issuing the license to Energy Fuels without public hearings required under the regulatory process.
Pinon Ridge would be the first new rock-crushing uranium mill to be built in the U.S. in 25 years. Communities in the area said they were concerned that lapses in state’s approval process prevented a thorough evaluation of potential and water quality impacts.
“We asked for an opportunity to have meaningful public participation and we got it,” said attorney Richard Webster, who represented the towns of Telluride and Ophir in the lawsuit.
Another concern for the towns was the issue of bonding against potential future cleanup costs, as well as the spread of pollution from radioactive dust, Webster said, adding that the lawsuit focused on the regulatory process rather than those substantive issues.
Federal nuclear regulators appeared to agree with the local challenges. In a March 6 letter to environmental attorney Jeff Parsons, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission also said that the state didn’t fully meet legal requirements for public involvement.
State officials reacted defensively to allegations, slamming federal regulators instead of addressing any of the substantive issues raised regarding the process.
” … CDPHE’s interpretation would significantly limit the opportunity for public participation in the licensing process. This is inconsistent with the legislative declaration in RCA § 25-11-301, recognizing that uranium mill tailings at mill operations pose a significant health hazard and the need to control such tailings to minimize their environmental impact,” McMullen wrote.
Read the court ruling here.
The judge ordered the CDPHE to convene a public hearing within 75 days of July 5 and to follow the procedures for hearings and licensing as set forth by state law. The state will have 270 days, starting July 5, to make a permit decision.
This story will be updated.
Background in this Summit Voice story.