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Leach mining bill advances Print

Loveland Reporter-Herald
April 6, 2008

As a bill to strengthen regulations covering in-situ leach mining moves through the Colorado Legislature, another one that would have required mining companies to be more open about their activities and potential impact on the environment was killed Thursday.

Go figure. You would think state legislators would want people to know all about mining operations that could directly affect them instead of keeping them in the dark.

Score one for the mining companies.

Meanwhile, the other measure — House Bill 1161 — awaits Senate debate after advancing from the House. That bill is a direct response to proposed uranium mining in Weld County that has met with overwhelming citizen objections.

The bill — according to one of its sponsors, Rep. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins — “ensures that uranium mining doesn’t leave behind a toxic legacy.” He correctly points out that mining is an “important part of Colorado’s history and an essential economic driver, but we must be careful.”

How true, that part about being careful. The Summitville gold mine disaster and its publicly funded $150 million-plus cleanup springs to mind.

However, the process used there was not similar to the one proposed for the Weld County mining operation.

The company seeking to mine uranium in Weld County claims its in-situ process is quite safe and will not contaminate water in the area.

Residents of the area sharply disagree. That’s understandable. It’s their drinking water that’s at possible risk.

Not all in-situ operations are the same, of course, but there have been some notable blunders by companies using the process.

In Wyoming, a number of serious violations have been documented against the major uranium producer in that state.

A state investigation report details problems and notes that “a realistic reclamation cost estimate for this site would likely be on the order of $150 million, as compared to (the mining company’s) current calculation of $38,772,800.” Not surprisingly, the mining company is bonded for just about the amount it cites.

The report adds, “Clearly the public is not protected.” Shades of Summitville. It is little wonder that people are leery of leach mining operations under their property.

Although it tries, the bill advancing through the Legislature cannot provide an absolute guarantee that water will not be degraded in the mining area. However, it appears headed for Senate approval and, pending the governor’s signature, will become law.

Hopefully, the bill can be strengthened before that occurs. If nothing else, the Senate should demand that companies engaged in in-situ leach mining of uranium in Colorado be bonded to the extent that property owners and the public are financially damaged if the mining operations fail to protect the environment.

In view of the history of mining in this country, that not only seems logical; it strikes us as intelligent.

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