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LM Issues Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on the Uranium Leasing Program

April 8, 2014 - 6:26pm

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The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has released the Final Uranium Leasing Program Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) to the public. The document can be found on the DOE Office of Legacy Management (LM)  website at http://www.lm.doe.gov/default.aspx?id=119, and on the DOE National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) website at www.energy.gov/nepa.

Under the Uranium Leasing Program (ULP), LM manages 31 tracts of land in Mesa, Montrose, and San Miguel counties in Colorado—approximately 25,000 acres—that are leased to private entities for uranium and vanadium mining. There have been three previous leasing periods on the tracts since the program was established in 1948. No mining operations are active on these lands.

DOE prepared the PEIS to analyze the reasonably foreseeable potential environmental impacts, including the site-specific and cumulative impacts, of a range of selected alternatives for managing the program. DOE evaluated five alternatives ranging from canceling the program to the no-action alternative of continuing the program for the remainder of the 10-year period. The PEIS will inform DOE’s decision on the future course of the ULP.

DOE identified the preferred alternative of continued management of the program with exploration, mine development and operations, and reclamation at the 31 lease tracts for the next 10-year period or for another reasonable period of time.

In 2007, DOE prepared a programmatic environmental assessment and subsequent Finding of No Significant Impact that determined that the ULP should continue by extending the 13 existing leases, and execute new leases for the remaining inactive lease tracts for a 10-year period.

Early in 2011, DOE determined that a PEIS should be prepared to further assess the potential environmental impacts, including site-specific impacts, associated with program activities that were defined under a reasonable range of alternatives.

On October 18, 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that DOE had violated NEPA by issuing its July 2007 programmatic environmental assessment instead of issuing a PEIS. The court invalidated the July 2007 evaluation and finding, stayed the 29 leases in existence under the program, and prohibited DOE from issuing any new leases or approving any activities on lands governed by the program.

The court later granted part of DOE’s motion for reconsideration of that order and amended its injunction to allow DOE; other federal, state, or local governmental agencies; and the current lessees to conduct activities on program lands that are necessary. Activities allowed include conducting environmental analyses; complying with regulatory orders; responding to dangers to public health, safety, and the environment; and maintaining the lease tracts and their existing facilities.

After conducting the environmental analysis that complies with NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, and all other governing statutes and regulations, DOE may ask the court to dissolve its injunction.

During the evaluation, DOE conducted a 109-day public comment period, held 4 public meetings in southwestern Colorado, and considered all public comments on the draft in preparing the PEIS. DOE will issue a Record of Decision no sooner than April 21, 2014.

New Verde Reclamation (15).jpg
New Verde Mine site (on Lease Tract C-G-26), near Naturita, Colorado,
being reclaimed in September 2004.
New Verde after reclamation
New Verde in June 2010, 4 years after reclamation activities
were completed.

 

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