Uranium bill clears Senate floor

Environment Colorado

Denver – Today, the Senate passed a bill which requires uranium processing facilities to clean-up their toxic mess before expanding operations, receiving bipartisan support by a vote of 24 to 9. 

Sens. Ken Kester (R-Las Animas) and Bob Bacon (D-Fort Collins) and Speaker Pro Tem Buffie McFadyen (D-Pueblo West) are sponsoring House Bill 1348, the Uranium Processing Accountability Act. Cosponsors included Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction). 

“Actions have consequences, and uranium companies need to cleanup their mess,” said Sen. Kester.

Sen. Kester represents Canon City, located in Fremont County along the Arkansas River, a community which has been struggling for decades with clean-up of the Cotter Corporation’s uranium mill. Ongoing issues at Cotter include expanding groundwater pollution, radon emissions at tailing ponds, potential radioactive dust exposure, and onsite spills and contamination.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed Cotter and the Lincoln Park neighborhood in 1984 as a Superfund site, the national priorities list for hazardous waste cleanup. Also, Cotter has also been cited with 99 violations over the last 10 years. Last year, Cotter announced plans to reopen in 2014 with no guarantee that it would cleanup existing pollution problems.

“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. 

Sharyn Cunningham of Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste cheered the leadership of Sens. Bacon and Kester and the Senate vote. 

“We are thrilled the Senate sided with the people of Canon City,” said Sharyn Cunningham of Colorado Citizens Against ToxicWaste (CCAT). “It’s about time uranium companies are held responsible for cleaning-up their toxic mess.” 

Cunningham moved to the Canon City area 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 1968.

Cunnigham co-founded CCAT in 2002 to successfully stop Cotter’s plans to become a dump for radioactive waste from Maywood, New Jersey. Last year, CCAT teamed up with Environment Colorado to ensure that Cotter and any other future uranium companies will clean-up existing problems and not force communities to live with continual toxic pollution problems.

“Today the Senate voted for accountability to protect our air and water. The days of uranium companies forcing communities to live with uranium pollution are over,” said Matt Garrington, program advocate of Environment Colorado. 

The bill marks a turning point in how uranium companies do business in Colorado. The issues at Cotter are not unique. Taxpayers have spent over $950 million to cleanup toxic pollution at past uranium milling operations in Colorado alone. (U.S. Department of Energy) 

HB 1348 has over 150 supporters including construction and tourism com¬panies, water providers, farms and ranches, former Republican Colorado Speaker of the House Lola Spradley, Republican and Democratic county commissioners, Colorado Counties Inc., Public Health Directors of Colorado, American Lung Association in Colorado, the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council, the Independent Bankers of Colorado, and other advocacy organizations.

HB 1348 will go back to the House where they are expected to secure passage of the bill and accept technical amendments adopted in Senate committee. The concurrence vote could happen as early as this week.