EPA Revisits Permit for What Could Be First in New Wave of Uranium Mines

May 9, 2012

In a move environmental groups call "unprecedented," the Environmental Protection Agency is reconsidering a decades-old permit for a proposed uranium mine near Church Rock. 

No uranium has been mined in New Mexico since 1998.  Of all the companies expressing a renewed interested in the idea (thanks to an improved market for the mineral), Uranium Resources Incorporated is perhaps furthest along in the permitting process.  Spokesman Matt Lueras says the company hopes to start production at its Church Rock mine by the end of 2013.  That is, assuming the EPA doesn’t revoke a necessary permit known as an aquifer exemption.

Lueras says the mine's 1989 permit was granted based on the fact that the groundwater in question is already undrinkable due to the levels of uranium found naturally in the ground. 

But Eric Jantz with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center says the permit was based on limited and misleading water quality data. And now the Law Center is helping the group Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining petition for a revocation of the permit.  So far, the groups' online petition has gathered close to 10,000 signatures.

Jantz says he thinks speculation in uranium may be overblown. 

"That said, even if only a few materialize, based on history, those mines could do a lot of damage to state resources and public health."

The EPA confirms it has agreed to reassess the facts of the 1989 permit, even while Uranium Resources contends it has not been told of any such plan.  No timeline for completion has been given.