Cleaning-up uranium’s toxic legacy

Environment Colorado

Denver – In conjunction of the House Transportation and Energy Committee hearing, elected officials, businesses, and agricultural interests gathered in support of House Bill 1348, the Uranium Processing Accountability Act. 
The bipartisan legislation would help ensure that communities and taxpayers are not left on the hook for cleaning-up and living with uranium pollution. Rep. Buffie McFadyen (D-Pueblo West) and Senators Ken Kester (R-Las Animas) and Bob Bacon (D-Fort Collins) are sponsoring the bill.
“Our number one goal as a legislature should be public safety” said Rep. McFadyen. “This no nonsense legislation ensures toxic waste cleanup and the health of our citizens.”
Rep. McFadyen and Sen. Kester represent Fremont County which has been struggling with cleanup of the Cotter Corporation’s Canon City uranium mill for decades. Ongoing issues at Cotter include expanding groundwater pollution, radon emissions at tailing ponds, potential radioactive dust exposure, and onsite spills and contamination.
“Actions have consequences, and uranium companies need to cleanup their mess,” said Sen. Kester.

HB 1348 has over 100 supporters including construction com¬panies, water providers, farms and ranches, former Republican Colorado Speaker of the House Lola Spradley, Republican and Democratic county commissioners, Public Health Directors of Colorado, Colorado Medical Society, unions, the Independent Bankers of Colorado, and other advocacy organizations.

The uranium mill site has been listed since 1984 as a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund site, the national priorities list for hazardous waste cleanup. Cotter has also been cited with 99 violations over the last 10 years. Fremont County Commissioner Mike Stiehl (R-Canon City) spoke about the challenges building the local economy while the city struggles with ongoing uranium pollution.

“Uranium pollution is bad for business,” said Commissioner Stiehl. “I’ve spent a lot of time working with Cotter on cleanup plans. I appreciate their efforts, but we need a high standard when it comes to radioactive, toxic uranium pollution.”

The Canon City group Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste (CCAT) was formed in 2002 to successfully stop Cotter’s plans to become a dump for radioactive waste from Maywood, New Jersey.

“It’s time for some responsibility. Citizens shouldn’t be forced to pay the price of uranium pollution with their health.” said Sharyn Cunningham of CCAT. Cunningham moved to Canon City in 1994 where her family then unknowingly drank water contaminated with uranium for eight years before learning about Cotter’s groundwater issues that were identified as far back as far as 1968.

“Uranium companies have to stop passing the buck on uranium pollution,” said Sen. Bacon whose own district in Northern Colorado has seen proposed uranium projects.

The issues at Cotter are not unique to uranium operations. In fact, not only do uranium processing facilities leave behind toxic waste, but companies often go bankrupt leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for cleanup. State and federal governments have spent over $950 million to cleanup past uranium milling operations in Colorado alone. (U.S. Department of Energy)

“Taxpayers have given uranium companies a $1 billion bailout,” said Matt Garrington, advocate with Environment Colorado. “If uranium companies want to operate in Colorado, it can’t be at the expense of taxpayers and our air and water.”

Environment Colorado and CCAT, with support from the nonprofit law firms Western Mining Action Project and Energy Minerals Law Center, brought forward the legislative idea to Rep. McFadyen in response to Cotter’s announcement last year that it plans to reopen in 2009 and the proposal by Energy Fuels for a uranium facility in western Montrose County.
About House Bill 1348 – the Uranium Processing Accountability Act:

1.     Ensures that uranium operators take action and cleanup existing problems before they can apply to increase or expand onsite activities.

2.     Protects taxpayers by allowing local government, stakeholders, and the public to submit written comments as part of CDPHE’s annual review of financial assurance for cleanup.

3.     Protects Colorado homeowners by requiring uranium companies to notify residents with registered water wells in close proximity to known groundwater contamination.

4.     Helps prevent communities from becoming dumping grounds for out-of-state toxic waste under the guise of uranium processing by requiring strict license provisions when seeking to accept “alternate feed,” or toxic waste from industrial or medical operations.