By Jason Kosena
Fort Collins Coloradoan
January 17, 2008
State legislators aim to tighten regulations
DENVER - Robin Davis is concerned enough about a uranium mine proposed 10 miles northeast of Fort Collins that she made a special trip to the state Capitol on Wednesday to take a stand.
Davis, a Nunn rancher, stood with the Fort Collins contingent of state legislators as it introduced new legislation aimed at tightening mining regulations in Colorado - regulations that could have a direct impact on the proposed Powertech (USA) Mining Corp. uranium mine outside Fort Collins.
The new legislation would require uranium miners to prove they could return groundwater to pre-mining conditions. It would also lift the confidentiality clause of existing state law that doesn't require companies to disclose mine prospecting during exploratory phases.
Water testing under the new law would be completed by a third-party contractor approved by the state - a shift from current state law, which requires the mining company itself to complete the testing.
"The uranium industry has shown a historical pollution of water aquifers, and so we are concerned for the children that we have coming to our house, and our livestock is at risk," said Davis, who owns land near the proposed site. "This is legislation that will protect our water quality and will help hold the uranium mining industry accountable for any pollutants that may be released into our water supplies."
Responding to the criticism lobbed at the Canadian-based Powertech throughout the news conference, spokesman Pete Webb said, "Powertech Uranium is reserving comment on the proposed legislation until it is able to analyze the impact it might have on Powertech's proposed project, as well as how any change in the law may affect mining production overall in Colorado."
Webb said the last time Colorado amended mining legislation in 1993, lawmakers sought input from the mining industry to study the environmental and economic impacts. He was disappointed the industry wasn't consulted about the legislation introduced Wednesday.
Fort Collins Democratic Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas, as well as Sens. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Steve Johnson, R-Larimer County, are sponsoring the proposed legislation, calling it one of the most important issues facing Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.
Citing uranium prices that have skyrocketed from $7 a pound in 2000 to around $90 a pound today and a 230 percent increase in mining claims in Colorado during the last four years, Fischer said it's time for the Legislature to take action.
"We're on the verge of another mining boom," Fischer said. "As a result, (lawmakers) have a responsibility to take action to protect public health, private property and our scarce groundwater supplies that are (seeing) new risks posed by modern mining technologies. We are obligated to enact new 21st-century laws to meet the risks posed by 21st-century mining."
Johnson said the legislation does not aim to take away the right of companies to mine their mineral rights in Colorado but does try to safeguard the process.
"We're saying that mineral rights are a property right and you have a right to exercise that right, but just as all of us do with our property rights, we think you have to exercise that right responsibly," Johnson said. "And that means that you leave the environment in as good as shape when you're done with it as it was when you started. It's that simple."
The legislation has yet to be assigned to a House or Senate committee.