July 18, 2012

(Denver) – In a ruling hailed as a major environmental victory, a Denver court has affirmed a 2008 state law tightening controls on uranium mining operations in Colorado.

On Friday, Denver District Court Judge Christina Habas rejected a lawsuit by Powertech, a Canadian uranium prospecting company, seeking to overturn regulations aimed at protecting groundwater from uranium mining impacts.

Powertech claimed that the state Mined Land Reclamation Board was exceeding the authority granted by House Bill 08-1161, sponsored by Reps. John Kefalas and Randy Fischer, both Fort Collins Democrats. The 2008 law and a companion measure clarify that the extraction process proposed for Powertech’s Centennial Project uranium mine, northeast of Fort Collins, is a mining operation and give affected local citizens a voice in the mine permitting process.

The company wanted to pump fluids into the ground, loosening embedded uranium, and then pump the fluids back out to bring the uranium to the surface. Critics of the technique, called in-situ leach mining, say it threatens groundwater. Powertech challenged a list of rules designed to protect groundwater and require public and local government involvement in the mine permit process. Judge Habas threw out every challenge.

“The ruling is great news for everyone who cares about clean water and public safety,” Reps. Kefalas and Fischer said in a joint statement. “Powertech tried to evade responsibility for any water contamination it may cause. The judge said Powertech can’t get away with putting our water supplies at risk.”   Jeff Parsons of the Western Mining Action Project, who represented local communities that joined with the state to oppose the Powertech suit, noted that this is second time in recent months the uranium mining industry has lost Colorado lawsuits aimed at weakening groundwater protections. In April, Denver District Court Chief Judge Robert Hyatt rejected Cotter Corporation’s effort to fight cleanup orders at its Schwartzwalder Mine, which has contaminated Denver Water supplies on Ralston Creek near Golden.

“The Colorado uranium mining industry is wrong to keep fighting water quality protections and better public involvement,” Parsons said after Friday’s ruling. “The people of Colorado have a right to be heard and will not accept mining projects that cannot protect the water.”

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