Denver district judge allows uranium mill lawsuit to move ahead

A Denver district judge this week rejected motions by the state of Colorado and a Canadian uranium mining company to throw out a lawsuit challenging the proposed Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill in Montrose County.

Denver District Judge Brian Whitney sided with the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance, which contends the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) may have violated various state and federal laws in issuing a permit for the mill. The lawsuit can now move forward.

The state and the project developer, Toronto-based Energy Fuels, had argued that the court had no role in reviewing the radioactive materials license for the proposed mill or jurisdiction in the case.

“For too long, state radiation regulators and the uranium industry has had a cozy relationship that has caused long-term contamination to continue unabated here on the Western Slope and on the Front Range,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance.

“That questionable relationship continues today as both Energy Fuels and the state try to argue Colorado residents have no seat at the table in trying to protect our clean air and water from uranium mining and milling. Thankfully, the court has rejected those arguments.”

Sheep Mountain also has sued Montrose County for permitting the proposed mill, which would be the first new uranium processing facility in the United States in nearly three decades. In an earlier interview with the Colorado Independent, Energy Fuels President and CEO Stephen Antony said legal challenges have been taken into consideration in the time frame for building Piñon Ridge.

“It’s all subject to how that process winds its way through the judicial system, but we added about six months in the schedule, so that puts us breaking ground in the fourth quarter of this year and commissioning [a working mill] a year later in the third quarter of 2012,” Antony said, adding the project is also contingent on capital investment and the global uranium market.

In his ruling on Wednesday, Whitney wrote that Sheep Mountain Alliance “members’ property interests, monetary interests, recreational interests, agricultural interests, and ecological interests are adversely affected by the issuance of the license” and that their “interests are those of an organization whose members are or will be injured, not an organization with mere interest in a problem.”

Sheep Mountain Alliance also is requesting the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delay its proposed approval of radon permits for the mill until it updates outdated Clean Air Act regulations. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has also urged the EPA to move cautiously on the mill.

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