by Andrew Villegas
February 5, 2008
A company that wants to mine for uranium near Nunn proposed changes to a state bill in the Colorado Legislature on Monday that would change how the company complies with proposed rules governing mining.
The bill, House Bill 1161, would require that companies such as Powertech -- the Canadian company proposing the Nunn mine -- clean groundwater to pre-mining quality after it finishes mining the radioactive material.
Powertech could use one of the amendments to get a pre-mining water quality waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that some say is a way of circumventing certain water quality regulations at the state level, though other regulations on water quality would still apply from other agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
In addition, the bill as introduced would require companies such as Powertech to provide evidence of five successfully cleaned mines before its permit is approved. Powertech proposed a change to the bill Monday that would allow mining companies to give only a "comprehensive history" of mining techniques and the risks involved in them.
State Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, said the bill as it currently stands is aimed at stopping companies from getting that waiver from the EPA, which sometimes allows companies to do with the water quality what they want.
"Local communities have the right to know what mining companies are doing," he said.
Richard Clement, president of Powertech, said the amendments were worked out with the Colorado Mining Association to clarify what legislators are asking of the mining industry.
Powertech's proposed mine sits on 5,670 acres near Nunn. Neighbors are worried about water quality and potential health risks involved with the mine, which would use an in-situ leaching method to extract uranium from sandstone deposits deep underground. Powertech officials say there is no danger to drinking water and that they can clean the aquifer after they finish mining.
A companion bill, HB 1165, would give local governments more control over what sort of mining is allowed in their communities.
Jeff Parsons, senior attorney with the Western Mining Action Project, said current mining law doesn't regulate the in-situ leaching method of mining.
The bills are necessary because mining companies industrywide don't have the best track record at cleaning water, Parsons said.
"They regularly contaminate aquifers and don't clean up the messes they make," said Parsons, who added that he thinks Powertech will be able to clean up the water. "It's a pretty high hurdle, but it's an appropriate one, I think."
The state House Committee on Agriculture will consider proposed amendments and the mining bill itself on Wednesday afternoon before legislators further examine the bill.