U.S. District Judge William Martinez orders halt to the DOE approval of exploration, mining and all other activities on 31 leases in southwestern Colorado

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From The Telluride Daily Planet (Matthew Beaudin):

…but the actual effect of the ruling is unclear: The DOE had already halted activity in the region while it conducted its own departmental environmental review…

In his 53-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William Martinez said federal officials violated environmental laws when they opened those lands back up to leasing, and even ran afoul of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling invalidates environmental reports that indicated that reviving mining operations would have what the department calls “no significant impact” in the region.

The ruling also says the 31 leases in existence under the program and halts the DOE from further mining-related activities and issuing any new leases until a more thorough environmental analysis is undertaken — something the department was, as of this summer, in the process of doing itself. The DOE, though, may have to widen its scope now.

Martinez scolded the department for failing to consider the cumulative impacts of renewed mining in the region, noting that “considerable exploration and mining has already occurred on these lands: indeed, uranium and vanadium mining has been taking place on these lands (on and off) since 1949.” The department, he wrote, should also consider the proposed Piñon Ridge Mill’s impacts on the region, rather than ignore it because it’s not yet built, as it had done initially.

“Not only does the DOE know that uranium continues to exist under the ULMP lands, but the DOE has precise estimates for the amount of uranium that exists and the rate that it can be extracted makes sense to point out that it appears that the Piñon Ridge Mill is in a much more advanced stage as of the date of this decision,” Martinez wrote…

Curtis Moore, a spokesperson for Energy Fuels, the company hoping to build the mill, said the decision doesn’t affect the mill, and that, even though the company held some of the frozen leases, Energy Fuels wasn’t planning on tapping them any time soon. The business model for the mill won’t change, he said. “It looks like this is the court basically ordering the Department of Energy to do already what it was in the process of doing,” Moore said.

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The decision throws out 31 leases to six companies, including the firm that wants to build a uranium mill near Naturita and a company owned by state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.

U.S. District Judge William Martinez invalidated the leases because the Department of Energy did not do a deep enough environmental study before it issued them. The DOE said this summer it would do the study, but Martinez issued the ruling anyway on Wednesday, saying he wanted to make sure DOE leaders did not change their minds again…

Coram, who represents part of Montezuma County, owns Gold Eagle Mining. The company holds three of the leases that were overturned, but Coram said the court ruling is not a problem. The DOE already has said it would take 12 to 15 months to do another environmental study. “It puts everything down the road to about 2014, as far as we’re concerned. That was the schedule we were working on anyway,” Coram said. “I’m certainly not concerned about it.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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