MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Colorado faces local mining bans, if bills succeed

Published by MAC on 2008-01-17


Colorado faces local mining bans, if bills succeed

17th January 2008

A Bill, introduced last week in the US state of Colorado, would grant local authorities rather than the state or federal government, veto power over mining projects which communities consider unacceptable - or at least over the technologies proposed.

Already Summit County - which includes Summitville, site of the biggest US evironmental mining-related disaster in recent years - has a ban on cyanide use. However, the ban is now being challenged before Colorado's Supreme Court.

Another bill under consideration would require uranium mining companies to "prove" they can return groundwater resources to pre-mining conditions.


Bill could confirm local mining control

State lawmakers consider boosting local power over mining proposals

BY BOB BERWYN, Summit daily news, Summit County, Colorado

17th January 2008

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado lawmakers are grappling head-on with the issue of local control over mining operations.

House Bill 1165, introduced this week, would confirm that local governments have control over what types of mining operations they want in their community, said Jeff Parsons, senior attorney with the Western Mining Action Project.

“This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a protect-our-water issue,” Parsons said. Colorado appears to be poised on the front end of a new mining boom. Market prices for molybdenum, gold, uranium and copper have all climbed in recent months, and there are new mining proposals surfacing on a weekly basis, Parsons said.

The bill could affect Summit County’s ban on cyanide heap-leach gold mining. The local mining regulations were quashed in Summit County District Court, upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals and are now under review by the Colorado Supreme Court.

“This is an effort, in our view, to curtail mining in Colorado,” said Colorado Mining Association (CMA) president Stuart Sanderson. Sanderson said the bill is an “end-run” around the current Supreme Court case on Summit County’s mining regulations.

“It may represent a fear on the part of those pushing for the cyanide ban that things might not go their way,” Sanderson said.

It’s not exactly clear how or if passage HB 1165 would affect the Supreme Court proceedings. But County Commissioner Bob French, a strong supporter of the county’s mining regulations, said he hopes the court decides on the case before the bill is passed.

“I dislike sending the signal that we’re nervous about the Supreme Court appeal,” French said. If the Supreme Court rules against Summit County, French added, then the language in the measure might even have to be strengthened.

Sanderson said the bill would “Balkanize” regulation of the mining industry, and could result in a big hit to the state’s economy by discouraging investment in mining operations.

“Our position is that mining is well regulated in Colorado,” Sanderson said. “We’re willing to have reasonable discussions, but the (veto) provision is a non-starter for us,” he said.

Sanderson was referring to language in the bill that essentially give counties the power to block a mining proposal regardless of circumstances.

A similar measure (HB 1161) is more narrowly aimed at uranium mining. It would require mining companies to prove that they will restore groundwater aquifers to their pre-mining quality before they are allowed to use an in-situ leach mining technique.

That process injects chemicals into aquifers to leach out radioactive uranium ore. It can release arsenic, selenium, uranium and other toxic chemicals, poisoning groundwater and the landscape.

The bill would also require mining companies to show that technology exists to clean up any pollution that results from mining.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.

Track the bill:

The progress of HB 1165 can be followed at http://www.leg.state.co.us/.

HB 1165 would:

• require the mined land reclamation board to specifically look at health and environmental risks during the permitting process;

• require mining operations to be regulated to prevent and mitigate significant adverse environmental impacts, and;

• require protection of public health, safety and welfare including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.


Lawmakers introduce mining legislation

State legislators aim to tighten regulations

BY JASON KOSENA, The Coloradoan

17th January 2007

DENVER - Robin Davis is concerned enough about a uranium mine proposed 10 miles northeast of Fort Collins that she made a special trip to the state Capitol on Wednesday to take a stand. Davis, a Nunn rancher, stood with the Fort Collins contingent of state legislators as it introduced new legislation aimed at tightening mining regulations in Colorado - regulations that could have a direct impact on the proposed Powertech (USA) Mining Corp. uranium mine outside Fort Collins.

The new legislation would require uranium miners to prove they could return groundwater to pre-mining conditions. It would also lift the confidentiality clause of existing state law that doesn't require companies to disclose mine prospecting during exploratory phases. Water testing under the new law would be completed by a third-party contractor approved by the state - a shift from current state law, which requires the mining company itself to complete the testing.

"The uranium industry has shown a historical pollution of water aquifers, and so we are concerned for the children that we have coming to our house, and our livestock is at risk," said Davis, who owns land near the proposed site. "This is legislation that will protect our water quality and will help hold the uranium mining industry accountable for any pollutants that may be released into our water supplies."

Responding to the criticism lobbed at the Canadian-based Powertech throughout the news conference, spokesman Pete Webb said, "Powertech Uranium is reserving comment on the proposed legislation until it is able to analyze the impact it might have on Powertech's proposed project, as well as how any change in the law may affect mining production overall in Colorado."

Webb said the last time Colorado amended mining legislation in 1993, lawmakers sought input from the mining industry to study the environmental and economic impacts. He was disappointed the industry wasn't consulted about the legislation introduced Wednesday.

Fort Collins Democratic Reps. Randy Fischer and John Kefalas, as well as Sens. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, and Steve Johnson, R-Larimer County, are sponsoring the proposed legislation, calling it one of the most important issues facing Fort Collins and Northern Colorado.

Citing uranium prices that have skyrocketed from $7 a pound in 2000 to around $90 a pound today and a 230 percent increase in mining claims in Colorado during the last four years, Fischer said it's time for the Legislature to take action.

"We're on the verge of another mining boom," Fischer said. "As a result, (lawmakers) have a responsibility to take action to protect public health, private property and our scarce groundwater supplies that are (seeing) new risks posed by modern mining technologies. We are obligated to enact new 21st-century laws to meet the risks posed by 21st-century mining."

Johnson said the legislation does not aim to take away the right of companies to mine their mineral rights in Colorado but does try to safeguard the process.

"We're saying that mineral rights are a property right and you have a right to exercise that right, but just as all of us do with our property rights, we think you have to exercise that right responsibly," Johnson said. "And that means that you leave the environment in as good as shape when you're done with it as it was when you started. It's that simple."

The legislation has yet to be assigned to a House or Senate committee.

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