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Court won’t review mining permit

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Ruling would allow a company to leach uranium at an aquifer that supplies drinking water

By Sue M. Holmes

ALBUQUERQUE — A federal appeals court has refused to review a ruling upholding a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision that will allow a company to leach uranium at an aquifer that supplies drinking water for 15,000 Navajos in northwestern New Mexico.

Eric Jantz, an attorney for the Santa Fe-based Environmental Law Center, which represents mining opponents, said Wednesday the center is looking at whether there are other legal options.

“This is a sad day for justice,” he said.

The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied the opponents’ request for a rehearing on Hydro Resources Inc.’s licenses.

Rick Van Horn, senior vice president of operations for HRI’s parent firm, Uranium Resources Inc., said the company is pleased by that decision.

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit concluded in March that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission took the “hard look” required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The 2-1 opinion said the NRC met NEPA requirements in its consideration of the cumulative impact of airborne radiation and correctly interpreted the Atomic Energy Act to require consideration only of airborne radiation from the licensed operation.

The Denver court heard arguments in 2008 in what lawyers called the first-ever challenge to NRC approval of licenses for an in-site uranium mining operation.

Eastern Dine Against Uranium Mining, the Southwest Research and Information Center and ranchers Grace Sam and Marilyn Morris contended the NRC violated federal law in approving permits for Hydro Resources’ leach mining near the Navajo communities of Crownpoint and Church Rock.

HRI applied in 1988 for a license to mine at four McKinley County sites near the communities.

The company has said it believes the mining is safe and will bring economic benefits to the Navajos.