TELLURIDE, Colo.— In a major victory for clean air, clean water and endangered species on public lands, a federal judge on Tuesday halted the Department of Energy’s 42-square-mile uranium-leasing program that threatened the Dolores and San Miguel rivers in southwestern Colorado. Five conservation groups had sued to halt the leasing program, charging that the Department of Energy was failing to adequately protect the environment or analyze the full impacts of renewed uranium mining on public lands.
The 53-page ruling invalidates the Department’s approval of the program; suspends each of the program’s 31 existing leases; enjoins the Department from issuing any new leases; and enjoins any further exploration, drilling or mining activity at all 43 mines approved under the program pending satisfactory completion of new environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act.
Conservation groups challenged the Department's current leasing program for not complying with the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act. The Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Rocky Mountain Wild, Center for Biological Diversity and Sheep Mountain Alliance sued the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management in July 2008 for approving the program without analyzing the full environmental impacts from individual uranium-mining leases spread over 20,000 acres and for failing to ensure protection of threatened and endangered species prior to authorizing the program.
In July the Department attempted to thwart the lawsuit by initiating a new “environmental impact statement” for the program but continued to administer the program under its prior flawed approval.
The Department also refused to conduct a full EIS analysis in 2008, instead issuing a FONSI (“finding of no significant impact”), which was also struck down as part of the court ruling.
Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and threaten to pollute rivers with uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, vanadium and zinc. Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium-mining operations have been implicated in the decline of four endangered Colorado River fish species and may be impeding their recovery.