By Coloradoan staff and news services
Fort Collins Coloradoan
March 29, 2008
House passes local legislators' item aiming to strengthen mining rules
DENVER - The Colorado House gave initial approval Friday to a bill by Fort Collins legislators that would strengthen the rules for in-situ leach mining, a process that injects substances underground that critics say could lead to the poisoning of groundwater and the landscape.
The process leaches out radioactive uranium ore. Opponents say the mining can result in harmful releases of arsenic, selenium, uranium and other toxic chemicals.
"This bill ensures uranium mining doesn't leave behind a toxic legacy. By encouraging responsible mining practices now, we'll protect our drinking water, our communities and our public health well into the future," said Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.
The measure - House Bill 1161 - would require mining companies to show they will reclaim and restore groundwater to pre-mining quality or to state standards. It also would require mine operators to notify all landowners within the vicinity about the proposed permit.
The bill was introduced after the mining company Powertech (USA) Inc. told the state it wants to begin in situ leach uranium mining west of Nunn.
Richard Clement, Powertech president and CEO, said in a prepared statement the company was disappointed by the House action. The bill is flawed, Clement said, but company officials plan to work with legislators in clarifying its language.
"The bill's intent is right on, to protect groundwater," Clement stated. "However, the language in the bill is vague. We just want to make sure that HB-1161 sets good public policy for the state of Colorado and does not create additional burdens for the business of mining in Colorado."
Powertech officials say they plan to apply for permits for the project by the end of the year. The company owns uranium mineral rights on 5,760 acres in Weld County.
Kefalas said the bill was drafted to protect local communities and promote a healthy business environment. The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins.
The House rejected an attempt to expand coverage to surface and underground mining after opponents said it could destroy the mining industry.
“Mining is an important part of Colorado’s history and an essential economic driver, but we must be careful. The long-term human and economic health of our communities requires us to protect our water,” Kefalas said.
He added that hundreds of new mining claims are expected as the price of uranium soars.
Supporters said Colorado learned a lesson when pollution from the Summitville gold mine near Del Norte in southern Colorado killed a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. The cleanup cost taxpayers more than $200 million.