Piñon Ridge faces new challenge

The fight against the recently approved Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill has gone to a new level. Two Colorado citizens groups have asked the EPA to withhold approval until the agency completes a review and revision of air-quality regulations it agreed to finish this year.

Energy Fuels Inc., a Toronto-based uranium and vanadium mining company, received approval for Piñon Ridge in January. The company plans to site the mill in the middle of Western Colorado’s uranium belt on 1,000 acres of privately owned land in Paradox Valley, not far from the Dolores River. The facility would be the nation’s first in a quarter century and located close to the only other operating uranium mill in the country, the White Mesa Mill in Blanding.

However, the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance and Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste (CCAT), a citizens group in Cañon City, are taking a new route to prevent Piñon Ridge from breaking ground. This week, the groups asked the EPA to withhold its approval of the mill’s construction plan until Clean Air Act regulations can be brought up to speed. The 1989 Clean Air Act allows radioactive uranium tailings to be dumped without protections or emissions limits.

“Our region’s health and long-term economic vitality may be severely damaged from dangerous radon emissions from the Piñon Ridge Mill,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. “We cannot afford the dangers of uranium milling and mining of the past to be repeated again on the Western Slope.”

Energy Fuels has submitted a plan for a 40-acre tailings pond to store radioactive waste from the mill. Sheep Mountain Alliance and CCAT contend that the pond will emit radon gas and could create a regional health hazard. In addition, the EPA is currently reviewing its air emissions program due to the successful settlement of a 2008 lawsuit brought by CCAT concerning radon emissions from uranium tailing piles.

“The Piñon Ridge Mill plans to produce 7.3 million tons of radioactive waste that will emit undisclosed amounts of radon into Colorado’s air,” said aCunningham. “Why wouldn’t the agency charged with protecting our clean air and water take the appropriate action and make sure the regulations our group fought so hard for applies for the nation’s first new mill in decades?”

Sheep Mountain Alliance is also currently fighting Piñon Ridge on another front. The group has filed a lawsuit contending that Colorado regulators violated the Atomic Energy Act by not allowing the public to ask technical questions about the project. The case is being heard in Denver District Court.

New website sparks fracking disclosure

A handful of energy companies are coming out with their recipes for hydraulic fracturing fluids used in natural gas drilling. A new website, www.fracfocus.org, gives companies the opportunity to disclose the chemicals used in “fracking” specific wells.

Fracking is the process where a slurry of water, sand and chemicals is injected into wells in order to release hard-to-reach natural gas deposits. Courtesy of the “Halliburton Loophole,” oil and gas companies are exempted from parts of the Safe Drinking Water Act and not required to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes. Watchdogs and members of the public have long alleged that the process has led to the contamination of well water with unknown harmful ingredients.  

The new website went live on April 11 and is a joint project of the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Numerous companies are already active participants in the process. Williams, one of Colorado’s biggest producers, has been posting information since day one, and ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil and ExxonMobil have agreed to participate. In all, 20 companies have agreed to share information on wells that have been fracked since Jan. 1.

“We think this will be a useful tool for citizens as well as an important step for industry in its efforts to better educate the public about energy development,” said David Neslin, director of the

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, in a statement.

As of press time, no disclosures had been made on any wells in La Plata County.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are taking a closer look at fracking. Earlier this month, a U.S. Senate hearing starting probed the health and environmental impacts of the process.

“Given the tremendous risks facing Americans, we’re encouraged that leaders in the Senate are taking the time to study this issue,” said Jessica Ennis, Legislative Associate with the environmental law group, Earthjustice.

La Plata County nets greenhouse grant

Armed with a half of a million dollar grant, La Plata County is on track to reduce more than 5,800 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. La Plata County’s Climate Wise Community Program aims to eliminate 340,000 vehicle miles and to change local practices in food production, land management, and residential and commercial energy use.

“La Plata County’s community-directed program is a collaborative, grassroots response to climate change,” said Jim Martin, Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator. “This model for creating resilient rural communities can be repeated across the country by those working to reduce greenhouse gases and improve economic vitality.”

Last week, the EPA announced La Plata County was one of 22 communities from across the country to receive generous grants to develop local strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve public health. Communities selected for the funds were required to show their ability to achieve ongoing GHG reductions as well as to track, measure and show progress toward their goals.

LPEA to host renewables open house

Durangoans can take advantage of a renewable energy open house next week. La Plata Electric Association will host its quarterly Renewable Energy Generation meeting at 9 a.m. on May 5 at its Bodo Park Headquarters. Discussion will center on rebates and other funding sources available to those considering renewable energy installations.

“Every day we field more and more inquiries about renewable energy installation and the funding options available. It’s an ever-evolving industry,” said Sue Maxwell, LPEA project specialist. “We want to continue to try to diffuse the mystery of all this and help our members who want to install renewable energy do so most cost effectively.”

For further information or to RSVP, contact 382-7170 or email smaxwell@lpea.coop.  

– Will Sands



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