From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):
Powertech, which previously called some of the provisions of the rules “fatal” to future in situ uranium mining in Colorado, proposes to open the Centennial Project uranium mine about 15 miles northeast of Fort Collins in Weld County.
The rules, mandated by House Bill 1161, signed by Gov. Bill Ritter in 2008, require Powertech to establish the level of groundwater purity before it begins prospecting for uranium and then establish a similar baseline for water quality before mining begins…
When the company is finished mining, it must fully decontaminate the groundwater and return it to its original purity to ensure the water is no longer polluted. Powertech’s lawsuit calls that rule irrational. Fully cleaning up the groundwater will be too expensive and will require the use of too much water from somewhere else to do the job, the lawsuit claims. And, Powertech claims, making the company completely decontaminate the water will hold the company to a higher standard than any other mining company in Colorado…
The lawsuit alleges [Rep. Randy Fischer, Rep. John Kefalas], Rep. Kathleen Curry and Sen. Gayle Schwartz violated the separation of powers under the state Constitution by writing a March 15 letter to the Mined Land Reclamation Board providing them direction on how to implement HB 1161.
Powertech’s lawsuit claims the state has no authority to require mining companies to test groundwater purity before it begins prospecting for uranium, and it says the state’s rule to show how other mines have reclaimed the groundwater is arbitrary. “These rules require information about other operations permitted at some time in the past or at other locations by an operator unrelated” to Powertech, the lawsuit claims, dismissing the rules as overly burdensome.
More coverage from the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Tom Hacker):
Powertech Uranium Corp., the Canadian uranium prospecting company that plans the Centennial mine, filed suit in Denver District Court claiming rules adopted by regulators during the past two years designed to protect groundwater are “arbitrary and capricious.” But members of Citizens Against Resource Destruction, the group aligned to fight the mine plan, say Powertech’s legal action stands in contrast to its stated commitment to protect the environment. Moreover, Powertech officials had said in published comments they “can live with” the new rules, and they are “not fatal to the project.”[...]
A lawyer representing the Western Mining Action Project said Thursday the lawsuit’s progress would be difficult to predict. “These cases can move quickly or they can take some time,” said Jeff Parsons, a Loveland resident who commutes to the mining watchdog group’s headquarters in Lyons. “It can be a very long, drawn-out process.”
The Weld County rancher who founded the opposition group, and whose land is adjacent to the mine site, said the lawsuit flies in the face of the company’s assurances to protect water resources. “It’s insulting,” Robin Davis said. “Powertech has told us from the very beginning they could and would restore our water. Now that we have regulations in place that will hold them accountable to their word, they sue the state of Colorado for protecting its resources.” The rule-making process took two years. It included a trip to Loveland by members of the mine reclamation board in April to gather public comment.
Conservationists were joined by water utilities, local governments and affected communities in crafting the regulations. Parsons said Powertech’s suit will face obstacles in the legal process as it progresses. “Anytime you sue the state over a regulatory issue, it’s an uphill battle,” he said.
More coverage from Monte Whaley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Denver District Court by Powertech Inc., names the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board and Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, as defendants. The company claims that rules and regulations adopted in August by the state to protect groundwater against damage created by the “in-situ” method of uranium mining are too restrictive. The lawsuit asks the court to examine the rules adopted by the board to determine whether it violated Colorado statutory rulemaking requirements and the state’s constitution. “We feel some improvements can be made and others are outside the bounds of what the Colorado legislature intended,” said Powertech attorney John Fognani…
[Jeff Parsons, a lawyer for the Western Mining Action Project] said this is the second time in recent weeks the uranium mining industry has sued state mining regulators to weaken groundwater protections. In September, Cotter Corp. sued the state mining board over cleanup orders at Cotter’s Schwartzwalder Mine, which drains into Denver Water supplies on Ralston Creek near Golden. “The uranium mining industry in Colorado is wrong to keep fighting water-quality protections and better public involvement,” Parsons said…
According to the lawsuit, one of the rules requires applicants to document reclamation work at five in-situ mining operations, not necessarily their own. “These rules require information about other operations permitted some time in the past, or at other locations by an operator unrelated to the applicant, and are therefore arbitrary, capricious, prejudicial and void for vagueness.” Another rule authorizes a “discretionary denial of a permit” if the mining reclamation board has “uncertainty” about the feasibility of a reclamation. “This provision is confusing, vague and unnecessary,” since the agency already has the authority, and responsibility, to deny a permit if an applicant can’t reach reclamation standards, according to the lawsuit.
Fognani said Powertech would still be able to meet the requirements of any state permitting process if the rules remain intact. “We just believe some certain improvement can be made,” he said.
More coverage from the Northern Colorado Business Journal. From the article:
The Powertech suit alleges that the rules go too far in restricting the company’s ability to mine uranium. It plans to use an in-situ process that removes underground uranium deposits by injecting a solution into the deposits to loosen them so they can be pumped to the surface. The rules require denial of a permit if a mining company cannot first demonstrate it will restore groundwater quality to baseline quality or better. The suit further alleges that another rule is a “blackball” provision that allows the denial of a reclamation permit because of “one or more past or current violations by an applicant or by an entity or individual who is very loosely related, if at all, to the applicant.” “These provisions are overly broad and punitive and could prevent a good company from conducting a mining operation because of isolated or administrative-type violations that may not even be related to that company,” the suit states.
More nuclear coverage here and here. More HB 08-1161 coverage here.