by Jason Kosena
Fort Collins, Colorado
February 21, 2008
DENVER - Nunn rancher Robin Davis left the state Capitol smiling Wednesday afternoon.
Davis, whose land would be near a proposed uranium mining operation, had watched the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee pass a bill tightening uranium mining requirements in Colorado by an 11-2 margin.
The bill still faces readings in the House and Senate. The legislation would require uranium miners - but not all mining operations, which was included in the original bill - to prove they could return groundwater to either pre-mining conditions or levels in line with existing state standards.
It also would lift the confidentiality clause of existing state law, which 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 to complete the testing.
Davis lives northeast of Fort Collins on land she says could be damaged if a proposed Powertech (USA) Mining Corp. uranium mine goes into operation.
The proposed mine would employ in-situ leech mining, a process where water is injected into the ground in order to bring uranium to the surface.
"It was an 11-2 vote. It was a strong 'yes,'" Davis said after the hearing. "I was pleased to see (lawmakers) who had concerns vote for it today."
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 House Bill 1161, calling it one of the most important issues facing Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.
"This was a huge victory for us today," Kefalas said. "We have worked very hard to get this bill where it is. I think this is good for the people of Fort Collins, the people of Weld County and for the state of Colorado."
The bill didn't get total support in the House committee. Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Douglas County, said he had concerns the bill was being brought forward too fast, and the state should instead create a moratorium on any new uranium mine permits while the Legislature continued to work on the bill during the 2009 session.
"I continue to have concerns that we perhaps don't know enough about this to make good decisions right now and that we might be better served to make a moratorium on state permits for in-situ leech mining," McNulty said. "(This) would allow the technical folks who understand groundwater, who understand mining and the in-situ leech process better ... to really come up with a regulatory structure that protects public health and groundwater."
Kefalas, who said experts and mining companies were consulted as the bill was drafted, said he believes the bill is ready to become law.
"I believe we can get this done this session and get it done right," Kefalas said. "Quite frankly, the people have asked us to act, and I don't want to do this in a rash way, but I believe we are making progress ... and we can do this in the 2008 session."
The bill heads to the House Appropriations Committee before going to the full House for a second vote.
A Powertech representative could not be reached for comment.