Senate Local Government Committee unanimously approves HB-1611
Bill shepherded through committee by Democrat Bob Bacon and Republican Steve Johnson; Powertech brings out big guns to no avail
Posted April 17, 2008, Updated April 18, 2008
Article published Apr 18, 2008
State Senate panel OKs measure tightening uranium mine rules
BY JASON KOSENA
DENVER - Fort Collins resident Marina Mayer was so overwhelmed by a unanimous Senate committee vote Thursday to tighten regulation of uranium mining in Colorado she broke down in tears.
"It's very emotional for me," said Mayer who is originally from Germany. "A week after my husband and I moved to Fort Collins, we heard about what was happening with the (Nunn) mine. There was a uranium mine in Germany and after it moved out the (landowners), well, they are still trying to work out the cleanup."
Mayer was among 20 Northern Colorado residents who packed the Senate Local Affairs committee in Denver on Thursday to testify in favor of HB 1161, sponsored by Fort Collins Democratic Reps. John Kefalas and Randy Fischer and Republican Sen. Steve Johnson, which would require uranium miners to prove they can return groundwater either to pre-mining conditions or those in line with existing state standards.
The legislation is important to property owners northeast of Fort Collins who have said they would be dangerously impacted if a proposed Powertech (USA) Mining Corp. uranium mine goes into operation.
Water testing under the new law would be completed by a third-party contractor approved by the state, a shift from current state law requiring the mining company to do the testing.
The proposed Powertech mine would employ in-situ leech mining, a process where water and chemicals are injected into the ground in order to bring uranium to the surface.
One property owner who lives directly above the proposed Powertech mine said she was happy to see citizen government working.
"Being that the vote was unanimous it was a huge sense of relief," said Nunn resident Robin Davis, who helped organize a citizen petition drive that garnered more than 9,000 signatures from Northern Colorado residents against the proposed mine. "It shows that grass-roots efforts really can work."
The legislation was introduced in the House to encompass almost all mining operations in Colorado. But after hard-rock mining advocates protested, the bill's language was watered down to include only proposed uranium mines in Colorado. Powertech's is the only mine that fits that description.
"This is probably the most important bill I have worked on this session," Sen. Johnson said. "Two years ago I didn't know what in-situ leech mining was and most people didn't know there were significant uranium deposits in Colorado. This is one of, if not the, most important issues in Northern Colorado today."
Powertech officials who testified during the time slated for opposition to the bill said they were not against the enhanced regulations but had concerns about the legislation.
"We have been involved in this bill since it (began) and have spent many hours trying to make this bill better," said Dick Brown, a Powertech representative.
"Powertech has never opposed this legislation ... what we have worked for is amendments to make it more workable and more pragmatic for mining interests in the state of Colorado."
Among the amendments Powertech proposed was a tightening of a provision that allows the state to deny a permit based on "uncertainties" in the permit application. The Canadian company asked that permits only be denied based on uncertainties based on scientific merit.
The bill's passage was also heralded by Environment Colorado, a state environmental group.
"Some of Colorado's treasured lands are too important for our environment and our communities to be developed for any uranium mining," said Matt Garrington, field director of Environment Colorado. "But, where uranium mining does take place, we need to ensure proper protections to our environment."
HB 1161 heads to the Senate Appropriations committee before going to the floor for a second vote.
News Release - "Uranium pollution bill right for Colorado"