Utes launch new clean air program
The Southern Ute Tribe took an important step in cleaning up the Four Corners’ airshed recently. After several years of working on its Clean Air Act program, the tribe gained federal approval for the set of regulations earlier this month. The Environmental Protection Agency, which previously oversaw Clean Air Act permitting on the reservation, approved the program March 2.

The Tribe is the first in the nation to operate its own Clean Air Act program for large sources of air pollution.

“The assumption of this program is a significant step forward for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the environment,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s Regional Administrator in Denver. “EPA’s approval reflects the Tribe’s exceptional effort to build the expertise and capacity to manage air quality on the reservation.”

According to Kyle Hunderman, an air quality scientist with the Tribe, the new regulations streamline the permitting process, which formerly was a confusing patchwork of local, state and federal regulations. “The large sources of emissions are subject to so many regulations that it was hard for operators and the public to know if they were in compliance,” said Hunderman. “This puts all the regulations into one document.”

The air permitting program is required under Title V, a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act. The program only applies to sources that emit more than 100 tons of emissions a year. Such sources on Southern Ute tribal lands include oil and gas compressor stations as well as natural gas processing plants, such as those owned by Red Cedar and Williams. Currently, there are 44 facilities on the 1,000-square-mile reservation that fall into that category.

Hunderman said the new set of rules fall under Title V’s Part 71 program and is more stringent than the EPA’s existing guidelines. “It goes above and beyond what the EPA does,” he said.

Under the new program, every emissions point will be required to file an annual or semi-annual report, and permits will expire every five years. If a source is found to be out of compliance, the Tribe has the authority to impose even stricter regulations until standards are met.

The new standards are the result of 15 years of work by the Southern Ute Environmental Commission, made up of three governor-appointed members and three members of the Southern Ute Tribal Council. The commission was formed out of a desire by the tribe to get more local oversight over emissions.  “When the EPA has authority, its regional office is in Denver and they could only get here for three months out of the year,” said Hunderman. “Now we have the advantage of local regulation and know everyone we are dealing with on a first-name basis.”

Although the Southern Ute program is unique in that it allows the tribe to issue operating permits and perform inspections, the Navajos also have a similar, less-stringent program run by the EPA.

Hunderman said more than one-third of all Title V sources are in Indian Country, making such regulations imperative. “That’s a lot of emissions for a small area,” he said.

Southern Ute Tribal Chairman Jimmy R. Newton Jr. heralded approval of the program as a major achievement. “It is the culmination of extensive cooperation among the Tribe, EPA, State of Colorado, La Plata County, and oil and gas industry operators,” he said in a news release. “The Tribe looks forward to administering the program in a manner that ensures protection of the Reservation airshed and contributes positively to regional air quality.”

Clean Air Act operating permits are legally enforceable documents issued to air pollution sources once they have begun to operate. The Southern Ute program went into effect March 2 and operators have until 2015 to be transferred under it.

Feds reject review of Piñon Ridge
Opponents of a proposed uranium mill near Nucla have gained a new ally in their fight. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently substantiated concerns by Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s review of the mill was not up to par and is requiring the agency to return to square one in the application process.

“CDPHE did not provide an opportunity for a public hearing or notice for public comment on the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill proposed license,” the NRC stated in a March 8 letter to Sheep Mountain’s lawyer Jeffrey Parsons.

The CDPHE issued a radioactive materials license for the Piñon Ridge Mill on Jan. 5 under a special agreement with the NRC. Sheep Mountain immediately filed a lawsuit against CDPHE, arguing that the public hearing and review process was botched.

“The statement from the NRC is an important acknowledgement that our concerns and basis for filing the lawsuit were both valid and significant,” said Hilary White, executive director of Sheep Mountain Alliance. White said she and others were denied answers to technical questions during the proceedings and open and careful scrutiny of the applicant’s assertions once the license was issued. “Since the mill was first proposed in 2007, people in our region have been requesting a full and complete review of this project. We are still waiting for it.”

The Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill is the first new uranium mill proposed in the United States in three decades. “Conducting a thorough public review is a fundamental obligation that Colorado must meet,” noted Parsons, who is with the Western Mining Action Project in Lyons. “The NRC has confirmed that CDPHE failed to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to review the Energy Fuels permit. We need new and objective eyes to look at this mill proposal.”

According to the correspondence, the NRC suggested that the state could remedy the procedural shortcomings by clarifying the public’s rights and working with mill owners Energy Fuels Inc. to provide a new hearing. Intervention by the NRC is unusual, Parsons noted. “NRC rarely comes down so clearly and explicitly stating that a state’s public review process was flawed,” Parsons said.

Among opponents’ concerns are radioactive tailings and waste storage; impacts to the Paradox Valley and the San Miguel and Dolores rivers; effects on wildlife; air pollution; and negative socioeconomic repercussions on neighboring communities.

“We needed a fair and complete hearing to gain a true understanding of what the Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill would mean to our region,” said White. “If built, it will ... leave a lasting legacy of toxic waste and economic liability for the public.”

However, not all are pleased with the NRC’s latest move. Several Nucla residents welcomed the return of Uranium activities, which Energy Fuels said would create 85 jobs paying between $45,000 - $70,000 a year. The mill’s opening would bring a return of prosperity to the hard-hit region, they say.

CDPHE Director Chris Urbina stood by the process, angrily accusing the NRC of interjecting itself into a legal battle between the state and project opponents. “For a federal agency to come along at this late date to muddy the waters is an outrage to all the community members, stakeholders and others who took the time to participate in the public process regarding the radioactive materials license,” Urbina said in a prepared statement to the NRC that appeared in the Denver Post last week.

Riverhouse to build new Florida digs
Dozens of local children will have a new home away from home later this year. After nearly 10 years at its home on Animas View Drive, Riverhouse Children’s Center announced last week it is building a new facility on Florida Road. The “state-of-the-art” facility will be located on Florida Road, just south of Colorado Avenue, on land donated to the nonprofit child-care center. The building is targeted for completion by the end of 2012.

“Thanks to the generosity of a local community member, 1.5 acres was donated to the center for the new building,” said Kim Barker, president of the Riverhouse Board of Directors.

In conjunction with the land acquisition, Riverhouse has kicked off a capital campaign to raise funds for construction of the new facility, which will increase the center’s current capacity. “It will allow us to serve the community’s needs for years to come,” said Barker.

The campaign was jump-started by a $25,000 grant from MercuryGives, the philanthropic arm of Mercury Payment Systems.

Since 2002, Riverhouse has served more than 600 families. The center serves children from 6 weeks through 5 years old.

For additional information or to make a donation, please visit www.investinginourchildren.com or email Riverhouseboard@gmail.com.
– Missy Votel