Public information meeting for Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site, April 20, 2017

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster):

Cañon City community members will meet again with Cotter Corp. on Thursday to hear about the former uranium mining company’s pilot groundwater cleanup project.

Cotter hopes the project will reduce uranium and molybdenum contaminates to safe levels, but so far, community members have had mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the program.

Doni Angell, a member of the Lincoln Park Community Advisory Group that hosts the meetings and frequently comments on Cotter projects, said the proposed project, known as the Organic Bioreactor Work Plan, will only create a more concentrated toxic environment…

The project proposes an organic method using wet hardwood mulch to remove contaminates from the groundwater, rather than synthetic chemicals that most uranium mills use. The mulch, Cotter believes, would remove oxygen from water flow areas, causing the uranium to separate from the water. Because the water is migrating down slope through the mulch, Cotter anticipates successful contamination reduction using the natural aquifer as opposed to a mechanically propelled system.

“This is the simpler solution based on our tests, and sometimes the simple solution is the better solution,” Cotter project manager Steve Cohen said, adding that capital costs for this type of project are much lower than synthetic chemical-based ones.

Community Advisory Group member Carol Dunn said she does not know enough about the details of the project to make an assessment.

She said her hope going into Thursday relies on the relationship the community has developed with Cotter – a unique aspect of the Cotter/Lincoln Park site in relation to other Superfund sites where the responsible party is usually no longer present…

The project is in the informal public comment period, which was extended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from April 21 to May 7 last week after a request from the Community Advisory Group. The EPA and CDPHE – which oversees activities at the site because of its designation as a Superfund site in 1984 – are reviewing the details of the project and will provide comments following the May 7 comment deadline.

At that time, the agencies will also evaluate comments received from other agencies and the public, include the Community Advisory Group…

The original groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park community was caused by the discharging of the uranium tailings into unlined tailing ponds. The ponds were closed in the early 1980s when the EPA listed the area as a Superfund site, and the waste was excavated and put into new lined ponds. The new ponds cut off most of the groundwater contamination, and, since then, the EPA has since declared the contaminated ground water status as “under control.”

The EPA is currently administering its 5-year review of the site to ensure that the site decision remedies are continuing to protect human health and the surrounding environment. The Community Advisory Group also has contributed to that project, providing the EPA with people to interview in the community about the impacts, or lack thereof, of the remaining contamination.

(The Community Advisory Group meeting will take place on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Abbots Room at the Abbey Events Complex, 2951 East U.S. Highway 50. The meeting is open to the public.)

U.S. coal use falls 9 percent in 2016 #ActOnClimate

One of the generating units at the power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., is being shut down this year to reduce emissions that are causing regional haze. 2009 photo/Allen Best

From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

…it was little surprise when the federal government reported this week that U.S. coal use fell 9 percent in 2016, even as Americans consumed more energy overall. The U.S. used more natural gas and renewables last year than ever before, while oil use and even nuclear power were on the rise, too…

Coal use fell last year for the third year in a row — after slight increases in 2012 and 2013 — and has been steadily declining in the U.S. since it peaked a decade ago, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data…

Part of the problem for coal, however, is that Americans aren’t as hungry for electricity as they used to be, thanks in part to more energy efficient buildings and appliances…

Cheap prices along with federal mercury emissions regulations became big incentives for electric companies to build natural gas power plants and shut down their coal-fired power plants, or run them using natural gas instead of coal.

Cotter Mill spill

Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Colorado Department of Public Health officials on Friday received a report of a spill that occurred at the Cotter Crop. Uranium Mill south of here.

Steve Cohen, Cotter manager, reported the spill occurred just before 8:30 a.m. as Cotter workers were trying to drain a section of pipes that connect the new and the old pipeline. A new pipeline is being installed to prevent contaminated water escaping the site.

About 5,200 gallons of water was spilled, all of which was contained within the trench and Cotter workers were able to recover most of the spilled water using a water truck, said Warren Smith, health department spokesman.

From Canon City Daily Record (Kara Mason):

It’s unclear how much “slightly contaminated” water seeped into the ground or will evaporate, but Steve Cohen, Cotter’s plant manager estimates around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons were picked up with the truck.

The spill happened when Cotter workers were attempting to drain a section of pipe where the old pipe and the new replaced pipe connect. A brittle or cracked valve is to blame, Cohen said. “Basically when the workers touched the valve it blew.”

The valve will be replaced, Cohen added.

The water was contained in the trench where pipeline construction has been ongoing for the last couple of weeks. Now, the water will return to the impoundment pond on Cotter property.

Cotter is replacing the pipeline after several leaks the last couple of years. Last August, Cotter reported a 7,000-gallon leak, which occurred over the course of 48 hours. That leak was the result of a hairline fracture in the pipleline — which is now being replaced on site.

Despite the most recent spill, Cohen said the pipeline replacement is still on track to finish the final week of March.

Cotter is required by Colorado law to report spills to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which posts the information on its website. CDPHE is expecting a report on the spill next week.

Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

Arizona Water News

The new Zinke team, including appointments to Bureau of Reclamation, will need to learn quickly about the complexities of Colorado River water law and the drought-induced woes facing Lake Mead


By a comfortable 68-31 margin, the U.S. Senate today confirmed President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.

The former Montana member of Congress will head a department that manages around 500 million acres of land and waterways in the United States.

Zinke’s department also includes the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the agency responsible for the system of dams and reservoirs on the Colorado River, the waterway that is integral to the livelihood of 40 million U.S. citizens living in the Southwest.

In a statement declaring his approval of the appointment, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said he looked forward to working with Zinke’s department, notably on behalf of Arizona’s Colorado River allotment.

“I was pleased to vote to…

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EPA delays in-situ uranium rule


From the Associated Press (Mead Gruver) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Federal officials withdrew a proposed requirement for companies to clean up groundwater at uranium mines across the U.S. and will reconsider a rule that congressional Republicans criticized as too harsh on industry.

The plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put on hold Wednesday involves in-situ mining, in which water containing chemicals is used to dissolve uranium out of underground sandstone deposits. Water laden with uranium, a toxic element used for nuclear power and weapons, is then pumped to the surface. No digging or tunneling takes place.

The metal occurs in the rock naturally but the process contaminates groundwater with uranium in concentrations much higher than natural levels. Mining companies take several measures to prevent tainted water from seeping out of the immediate mining area.

Even so, underground leaks sometimes occur, though most of the mines are not near population centers. No in-situ uranium mine has contaminated a source of drinking water, the industry and its supporters assert.

Along with setting new cleanup standards, the rule would have required companies to monitor their former mines potentially for decades. The requirement was set for implementation but now will be opened up for a six-month public comment period, with several changes.

Those include allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or states to determine certain cleanup standards on a site-specific basis. The EPA decided to resubmit the rule and seek additional public input after reviewing earlier comments, agency spokeswoman Monica Lee said.

Wyoming’s Republican U.S. senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, praised the EPA’s decision to reconsider, saying the rule was unnecessarily burdensome for the uranium industry.

Wyoming has five active in-situ uranium mines and is the top uranium-producing state. Other mines are active in Nebraska and Texas.

“In-situ uranium recovery has been used in the United States for decades, providing valuable jobs to Wyoming and clean energy to the nation,” Enzi said in a news release. “I rarely say this about the EPA, but the agency made the right decision.”

Environmentalists and others say uranium-mining companies have yet to show they can fully clean up groundwater at a former in-situ mine. Clean groundwater should not be taken for granted, they say, especially in the arid and increasingly populated U.S. West.

“We are, of course, disappointed that this final rule didn’t make it to a final stage,” said Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “It was designed to address a very real and pressing problem regarding water protection at uranium mines.”

The EPA rule is scheduled for further consideration in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

In-situ uranium mining surged on record prices that preceded the 2011 Japanese tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prices lately have sunk to decade lows, prompting layoffs.

@Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.


@EcoFlight1 gives students an aerial view of the connectedness of the environment

Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.
Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.

From The Aspen Daily News (Jordan Curet):

In honor of this year’s National Parks Service centennial anniversary, EcoFlight took to the air for four days in late October for combined flights connecting Aspen to Arches and Canyonlands, to the Grand Canyon and finally to Mesa Verde National Park, not to mention the thousands of miles of landscape in between.

EcoFlight, a nonprofit based out of Aspen, takes annual trips with eight college students in six-seat planes to get an aerial perspective on wildland environmental issues. The organization’s president, Bruce Gordon, took similar flights with John Denver, and they had an idea for a trip starting in Alaska, picking up celebrity-pilots along the way and arriving in Washington, D.C. for Earth Day in 2000.

After Denver passed away, Gordon wanted to pursue their shared dream and founded EcoFlight in 2002. Gordon recognized the need to share the first-hand perspective on threats to the environment with the next generation, and began the annual Flight Across America (FLAA) program. This year, eight college students crammed into small planes for a four-day whirlwind tour touching several of the national parks in the west.

“These students have a voice,” Gordon says, sitting with the students in John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen before takeoff. “I want them to see for themselves, and then tell others.”

The participants arrive from near and far, with backgrounds as different as their colleges. Included in the group is an anthropology major from Texas, a Colorado State University freshman in wildlife and conservation biology and a sustainability studies student at Colorado Mountain College in the Roaring Fork Valley. Each student brings their experiences and knowledge from a variety of study areas.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Emilie Frojen, a senior at Colorado College, is writing her thesis about tribal water rights.

“I know a lot about water rights but I want to extend my knowledge into that of public lands and the intersection,” she said, explaining why she wanted to join the FLAA program, adding that she is interested in the social construction of wilderness.

Seeing the connection

Just after departing from Aspen, the students’ headsets crackle to life as Gordon speaks to the three single-engine Cessna 210 Centurion planes flying in formation. Gordon points out geological features and human impacts to the region. Heading toward Moab, Utah, the flight path takes students over mines and natural gas platforms, as well as the mostly roadless Thompson Divide area, the Colorado National Monument and sprawling rock formations in the wilderness.

“We were flying at about 7,000 feet and you can see how it is all connected from the air,” says Caleb Henderson, from University of Texas.

“You can see an obvious line across the land,” adds Cole Rosenbaum, a master’s student studying geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, speaking of the infrastructure that connects well pads to roads and pipelines.

The aerial perspective isn’t everything though, and the program includes ample time spent on the ground in key places discussing the issues with experts representing various perspectives.

“It’s important for the students to experience the parks as well,” according to Jane Parigter, EcoFlight’s vice president. Once on the ground in Moab, the students head to Arches National Park. Sitting beneath the iconic Double Arch they listen to Matt Gross, with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and discuss the proposal for the Bears Ears National Monument, which if designated would protect 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah that include ancient cave dwellings and sites sacred to Native Americans

The conversation about policy and land management is followed by a more personal connection to the issues the next morning as the planes touch down in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. The students sit down with members of the Navajo Nation and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, discussing what the land means as more than just wilderness.

“We are trying to preserve the land, but also the songs and the stories,” says Jonah Yellowman, a spiritual adviser from the Many Arrows Bitterwater Clan, as he addresses the students telling tribal creation stories and how the land is connected to him. There have been desecrations of sacred cultural places, he added, and the monument designation would help protect them.

“Is it challenging to communicate with people not from this heritage, working with policy makers while you write the proposal?” asks Frojen, the Colorado College senior studying tribal water rights.

“It is hard to translate why this is sacred,” he admits.

This is a theme that is reiterated again that afternoon at Grand Canyon National Park, as locals depict the proposed Escalade development and how it affects their physical and spiritual world. The project would include hotels above the canyon rim and a tram to the Little Colorado River just upstream from its 
confluence with the Colorado, the place where, according to Navajo tradition, the tribe emerged into the world.

“In Navajo people don’t need to know why something is sacred, it just is. So I am a translator,” says Jason Nex, with Save the Confluence. “I translate from Navajo to English, from science to Navajo.”

Sitting on the edge of the South Rim, one speaker after another presents a variety of stories about the Grand Canyon, from overcrowding and underfunding to diversity and its inclusion in the national parks system.

“EcoFlight takes a very objective approach, presenting us with different information,” says Rosenbaum, from Mines. “At school we are well trained in the technology and the math, but there has been a push to take a more humanitarian approach.”

Mining for impact

“I am here to get you inspired to save the Grand Canyon, and to not want to drink Uranium water,” says Sarah Ponticello, from the Sierra Club. “Sign the petition to really show your support to get this permanently protected.”

Julianne Nikirk, a student at Colorado State University, was surprised to learn that uranium mining is set to commence on the canyon’s doorstep.

“You just kind of assume it is protected,” she says of the Grand Canyon, as they arrive at Canyon Mine, located near the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The Canyon Mine is not yet operational, but workers have drilled a shaft over 1,400 feet deep and mining could begin for high-grade uranium in six to eight months.

Donn Pillmore, director of operations for Energy Fuels, which operates the mine, offers a counter point, reminding the students that the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of uranium.

“And we import 96 percent, from places that are not operating under the same environmental regulations as we are. Not even close,” he says.

Pointing out that 20 percent of all U.S. power comes from nuclear plants, Pillmore adds that when uranium comes out of the ground it is not considered a hazardous material by the Department of Transportation. Mitigation systems and measures to prevent contamination from reaching water, as well as reclamation efforts after mining finishes in as little as five years, will return the site to how it was before mining began, he says.

From the outside of the fence where Pillmore speaks to the students the site seems meager, but as the planes wing over it on their departure from the Grand Canyon they see the large swath of land it includes. As the planes cross over the Four Corners area and into Colorado the ground below becomes a maze-like network of oil and gas operations, just a few miles from Mesa Verde National Park.

Back on land in Durango, another series of experts discuss threats to the national parks, how different land management strategies affect wilderness and how to diversify park users and activists. One speaker reminds them on their next flight to think about how the landscape looks now, but also how current policy on wilderness areas will shape it in the future.

As the whirlwind tour comes to an end the students talk about how the different stops affected both them personally and the world around them. Each participant will head home with a bevy of information to digest and a plan to share their stories with their peers and others.

The participants’ first opportunity comes on the last day of the trip at Durango High School, where they coalesce three days of discussions, debates, viewpoints and seminars into a slideshow. They implore the high schoolers to care, get involved and vote, once they can.

“We take local people up to look at their local communities, with the idea being to educate and advocate,” Gordon explains to the high schoolers. “We want to inspire people to speak out.”

Lauren Fry, from Colorado State University, is committed to spread the word when she returns to Fort Collins.

“I want to really focus on outreach on campus, and not many know about Bears Ears,” she said. “Through campus radio, the local TV station and our student newspaper, I want to call attention to the issue and guide people to the petition to protect Bears Ears.”

That sentiment sounds good to Pargiter, EcoFlight’s vice president.

“We want to empower them to have a voice and get them to reach out to their peers,” she said. “This is their generation that is going to be doing a lot of the work.”

The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.
The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.