SANTA FE, N.M. - Today, the New Mexico Environmental Law Center (NMELC) filed a request for a public hearing regarding a proposed permit revision to put the Mt. Taylor uranium mine on active status. The mine, near Grants, NM, has been inactive (on “standby” status) without cleanup for 23 years. The mine’s owner, Rio Grande Resources, received a fourth renewal for the standby permit in January 2012, but on April 12, 2013 it notified the public it was seeking a revision to change the mine’s status to “active”. The NMELC filed the hearing request on behalf of its clients, Amigos Bravos and the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment (MASE).
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“The sudden change in the mining company’s plans is very curious,” says Eric Jantz, NMELC Staff Attorney. “Currently, all active uranium mines nationwide are operating at less than a third of their capacity, yet Rio Grande Resources is deciding to reactivate this mine in a very soft market. And it is even stranger that the company has decided to change course after over a year of our clients articulating to the State that reclamation or cleanup needs to occur as a requirement to the standby permit.”
A standby permit allows the mine operator to let the mine remain inactive without having to do any reclamation. The permit lasts for only five years. After five years the operator must apply for renewal. MASE and Amigos Bravos attempted to participate in the public hearing for renewal, but the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division illegally prohibited the groups’ presentation of evidence on the need for cleanup and the failure of the Division to require any interim cleanup on its own. The Division granted the standby renewal without any cleanup requirement.
“It is irresponsible of the state of New Mexico to go forward with new mining projects, when we still have the legacy of uranium contamination to deal with first,” says Nadine Padilla, MASE Coordinator. “New Mexico needs to be concerned with cleaning up the messes of past uranium projects, not permitting new ones.”
The NMELC filed an appeal against the Division for failing to follow its own public hearing regulations. That appeal is currently pending.
“In the face of having their standby permit appealed and the possibility of a judge requiring the Division to follow its regulations, Rio Grande Resources may have thought it would be cheaper to change the status of the mine to ‘active’,” says Jantz, “even though there is no market for their ore and no place to mill it.”
“The Mt. Taylor Mine continues to be a health hazard,” says Brian Shields, Amigos Bravos Executive Director. “The mine should not be allowed to resume operations until it successfully cleans up its prior messes — especially its radioactive discharges to air and water. We ask that the state protect the health of all New Mexicans by requiring cleanup of radioactive contamination at the Mt. Taylor Mine prior to allowing further mining.”
The Division Director will decide whether to grant a public hearing. The Director must grant a hearing unless the request is frivolous, but could take months to actually schedule a hearing.
Communications and Public Education Officer
New Mexico Environmental Law Center
505-989-9022, ext. 30