Conservation Groups Threaten Department of Energy With
Additional Legal Action for Endangered Species Act Violations
DURANGO, Colo.— Today conservation groups notified the Department of Energy and Bureau of Land Management that they intend to add claims of Endangered Species Act violations to litigation challenging the Department’s 2007 decision to continue and expand its 42-square-mile uranium leasing program on public lands around the Dolores and San Miguel Rivers in western Colorado.
The groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, and Center for Native Ecosystems.
Newly obtained documents reveal that the Department of Energy failed to consider the impacts of water depletion and contamination to threatened and endangered species — including Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker , and humpback and bonytail chubs — despite warnings from the Bureau of Land Management that those threats exist. The notice of intent gives the agencies 60 days to remedy violations of the Endangered Species Act by initiating formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the program’s impacts on threatened and endangered species. In 2008, the same groups filed a lawsuit challenging other aspects of the Department of Energy’s uranium-leasing program. Should the agencies fail to act in response to today’s notice, conservation groups will add legal claims to their pending lawsuit.
“Risking species, public lands, and scarce western water with irretrievable uranium contamination is profoundly short-sighted — but that’s exactly what the Department of Energy has done,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Department’s choice now is to comply with the Endangered Species Act or be sued for these new violations.”
Uranium mining and milling resulting from the lease program will deplete Colorado River basin water and may pollute streams and rivers with toxic and radioactive waste products, including uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic, molybdenum, aluminum, barium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, vanadium, and zinc. These pollutants may contaminate rivers and aquatic ecosystems for hundreds of years following uranium mining, threatening downstream communities and fish and wildlife. Selenium and arsenic contamination in the Colorado River basin from abandoned uranium mining operations in the region has been implicated in the decline of the four endangered Colorado River fish species, and may be impeding their recovery.
“Even small amounts of some of these pollutants, like selenium, can poison fish, accumulate in the food chain and cause deformities and reproductive problems for endangered fishes, ducks, river otters, and eagles,” said biologist Megan Mueller of the Center for Native Ecosystems. “It is irresponsible for the Department of Energy to put fish and wildlife at risk by rushing to approve numerous uranium mines without adequate protections to prevent pollution. ”
Since approving the leasing program in 2007, and despite having sidestepped Endangered Species Act requirements, the Department of Energy has executed dozens of new 10-year lease agreements that effectively authorize new and additional mining. Uranium tailings on Department lease and other tracts have already contaminated the Dolores and San Miguel River watersheds heavily impacting water quality in both rivers. Proposed uranium mines and mills in the area (including the Whirlwind mine and the Paradox uranium mill) may also result in runoff and discharge of contaminants into the Dolores River basin.
“We hope the DOE will do what’s right in protecting the land, water and people from a massive and flawed development plan rushed through by the Bush administration,” said Joe Neuhof, West Slope director for the Colorado Environmental Coalition. “This land has plenty of long-term value for its recreational opportunities and wildlife so there is no reason to rush ahead without properly assessing potential impacts.”
The public lands impacted by the uranium leasing program – all of which remain under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction – are world-renowned for their unique and impressive mesas, canyons, arches, and wild sections of river that draw recreationists from around the world. The unique ecosystems support cryptobiotic soils, vegetation, fish and wildlife, and the Dolores River watershed, which flows into the Colorado River system on which millions of people and four critically endangered fish species depend.
“The Department of Energy’s actions are not only irresponsible, they risk devastating destruction to the biota for short-term gain,” said Damien Borg of INFORM. “This is reprehensible behavior and must not be tolerated.”
Record of telephone conference in which BLM states water depletion and toxic discharge may affect endangered fish in downstream.
DOE environmental checklist stating that threatened and endangered species may occur in the vicinity of uranium lease tracts.
Map of DOE uranium lease tracts in the Dolores and San Miguel River canyons and watersheds.
Notice of Intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the Department of Energy, Office of Legacy Management Uranium Leasing Program.