A judge overturns a license for the Piñon Ridge uranium mill

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A key permit required for the Piñon Ridge uranium mill in Montrose County, Colo., to move forward has been revoked by a Colorado court citing a flawed public hearing process.

On June 13, Denver District Judge John McMullen invalidated Energy Fuel’s radioactive- materials license, which was approved by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment last year.

“The court concludes that CDPHE acted contrary to law and not in accord with procedures in failing to provide a hearing. Therefore the court sets aside CDPHE’s action in issuing the license,” wrote McMullen in his ruling.

Energy Fuels is planning to construct a $150 million uranium mill in Paradox Valley, located west of Naturita, Colo. (Free Press Jan. 2012) Sheep Mountain Alliance, a Telluride- based environmental group, sued the CDPHE for numerous violations, including failure to allow public testimony on stateissued reports regarding the plant’s safety.

In his ruling, McMullen agreed with Sheep Mountain’s claims of insufficient public process, cancelled the permit and ordered a new public hearing on the matter.

“It is undisputed that neither of the public meetings was an adjudicatory hearing. It is further undisputed that at neither of the meetings was there an opportunity for cross examination,” McMullen wrote.

“CDPHE interpretation (of hearing procedures) significantly limit(s) the opportunity for public participation in the licensing process. This is inconsistent with legislative declaration in the Radiation Control Act recognizing that uranium mill tailings at mill operations pose a significant health hazard and the need to control such tailings to minimize their environmental impact.”

Jennifer Thurston, a campaign coordinator with Sheep Mountain, welcomed the ruling.

“That was the issue of our lawsuit — that we did not have the opportunity to examine the state’s environmental report on hydrology and geology regarding the mill,” she said in a phone interview. “Energy Fuels no longer has a radioactive materials license to operate a mill in Colorado.”

Thurston said CDPHE’s error occurred when they issued their environmental report on the mill without opportunity for cross-examination and witness statements by opponents of the mill. The permit was approved shortly after the report was issued, leading to the lawsuit.

“A new hearing will allow for a more fair public process and allow information, evidence and testimony to be put on the record regarding the mill’s environmental safety,” Thurston said. “The problems with uranium mills in Colorado have been significant and the environmental issues for this mill have not been adequately reviewed.”

CDHPE could appeal the decision but had not as of press time. The new public hearing is expected to take place in the fall.

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