Colorado closer to tough uranium milling rules, but feds take a step back

A proposal to stiffen state requirements for cleaning up uranium processing facilities and notifying area residents of groundwater contamination passed on second reading in the state House Thursday.

No one spoke in opposition to HB 1348, which will have its third and final reading on the House floor Monday, and two Republicans – Reps. Marsha Looper and Tom Massey – spoke in favor of the bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship and widespread support in the Arkansas River Valley and along the southern Front Range.

Officials at the Cotter uranium mill in Cañon City, a facility with a history of water contamination violations, are considering refurbishing the plant to process ore from New Mexico beginning in 2014. Local activists want the EPA Superfund site fully cleaned up before such plans are considered.

In other mining waste storage news, environmentalists Thursday condemned an Obama administration filing Tuesday supporting Bush administration rules allowing the mining industry greater latitude in disposing mining waste on public lands.

“With record government deficits, it is unfortunate that Washington still gives the mining industry a blank check to use our public lands for mine waste disposal,” Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. public lands program, said in a release. “If the Obama administration feels that its hands are tied, we hope it will move quickly to work with Congress to modernize the 1872 Mining Law and stop putting America’s resources to waste.”

The Obama administration filing was in response to a lawsuit filed by conservation groups in October challenging 2003 and 2008 “millsite” rules issued by the Bush administration. Attempts to reform the 1872 Mining Law have become a political hot potato, with conservationists pushing for mining royalties to create a fund to pay for toxic waste cleanup.

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