WASHINGTON (January 26, 2015)--The Environmental Protection Agency's first-ever proposal to protect groundwater from the hazards of uranium mining is a good start, but more needs to be done, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The following is a statement by NRDC Senior Attorney Geoffrey Fettus on the new proposed rules published today by the EPA:
“We are pleased EPA has taken this important step forward. These standards to protect western ground water from the dangerous pollution associated with uranium mining are years overdue.
“But the standards need to be clarified in order to ensure that the quality of the underground water is documented before mining--and they need to be strengthened to ensure protection of groundwater quality in surrounding aquifers."
The proposed rules, which come after years of advocacy by NRDC and others, for the first time set standards for a process known as in situ leach (ISL) mining, which injects fluids underground to dissolve uranium deposits in western aquifers. This results in significant pollution of those aquifers by uranium and heavy metals. The draft rules set standards for establishing baseline water quality prior to the mining process, for restoration of the affected aquifers and for post-restoration monitoring.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed the proposed rule December 31, and it was published today in the Federal Register, starting the clock on a 90-day comment period. ISL, also called in situ recovery, is now by a wide margin the preferred method for uranium mining and the rules will have a significant impact in the Interior West, from Wyoming to Texas.