EARTHWORKS

We need to clean up old uranium messes, and make sure we have rules to prevent new ones, before we mine more uranium

Lauren Pagel's avatar
By Lauren Pagel

September 24, 2010

Yesterday, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources conducted a hearing concerning H.R. 4817. The bill would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 and give uncertified States and Indian tribes authority to use payments to take care of certain noncoal (i.e. uranium) reclamation projects.

Currently, there are 137 abandoned uranium mines in the state of New Mexico, a majority of which affects Indian nations. As of right now, due to the Department of Interiors misinterpretation of SMCRA, Indian tribes and uncertified states are unable to use appropriate SMCRA funds for the sites.

Representative Harry Teague (New Mexico), who has dealt with uranium issues in his state, presented the bill to the Subcommittee. Ms. Pineda of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Governor Antonio of Pueblo of Laguna gave their testimonies during the hearing and expressed the need to give states authority in deciding what funds to delegate to mine reclamation projects. Ms. Owens from the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement also gave her testimony at the hearing and cited budget issues and the administrations focus on cleaning coalmines as issues that would prevent this bill from moving forward.

Unfortunately, this is an issue that will not be resolved immediately. Budget issues in the Obama administrations 2011 fiscal year seem to be putting roadblocks in front of this bill.

Although this is something that may take awhile to address, we must take care of legacy uranium mines before moving forward with new ones.

Uranium mining practices during the nuclear era of the 1940- 1980s ignored environmental and human safety. Today, these mines continually pose as an environmental and community hazard.

This case should be used as a way to look at how to change the way we extract our natural resources.

  1. We should be making an effort to clean up legacy uranium mines before beginning new projects. And,
  2. We must address the archaic 1872 Mining Law and make uranium a leasable mineral.

Nuclear energy seems to be an part of our energy future, therefore, we should be taking steps to correct our past mistakes and prevent these problems from happening in our future. These issues are preventative, and we can start by addressing the 1872 Mining Law.

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Tagged with: uranium, smcra, new mexico, hr4817, energy and minerals, abandoned mines

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