New law could confirm local control over mining |

New law could confirm local control over mining

Bob Berwyn
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Colorado lawmakers are grappling head-on with the issue of local control over mining opera­tions. House Bill 1165, introduced this week, would confirm that local governments have con­trol over what types of mining operations they want in their community, said Jeff Parsons, senior attorney with the Western Mining Action Project.

“This isn’t a partisan issue. This is a protect-our­water issue,” Parsons said. Colorado appears to be poised on the front end of a new mining boom.

Market prices for molybdenum, gold, urani­um and copper all have climbed in recent months, and there are new mining proposals surfacing on a weekly basis, Parsons said.

The bill could affect Summit County’s ban on cyanide heap-leach gold mining.

The local mining regulations were quashed in Summit County District Court, upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals and now are under review by the Colorado Supreme Court.

County attorney Jeff Huntley said he thinks the county already has the authority to regulate min­ing under existing law. But the proposed bill could be helfpful down the road by clarifying any issues associated with local government control over mining activities.

The mining industry still is studying the meas­ure, but is generally opposed to the bill.

“This is an effort, in our view, to curtail mining in Colorado,” said Colorado Mining Association (CMA) president Stuart Sanderson. Sanderson said the bill is an “end-run” around the current Supreme Court case on Summit County’s min­ing regulations.

“It may represent a fear on the part of those pushing for the cyanide ban that things might not go their way,” Sanderson said.

It’s not exactly clear how or if passage HB 1165 would affect the Supreme Court proceedings. But County Commissioner Bob French, a strong supporter of the county’s mining regulations, said he hopes that the court decides on the case before the bill is passed.

“I dislike sending the signal that we’re nervous about the Supreme Court appeal,” French said. If the Supreme Court rules against Summit Coun­ty, French added, then the language in the meas­ure might even have to be strengthened.

Sanderson said the bill would “Balkanize” reg­ulation of the mining industry, and could result in a big hit to the state’s economy by discourag­ing investment in mining operations.

“Our position is that mining is well regulated in Colorado,” Sanderson said.

“We’re willing to have reasonable discussions, but the [veto] provision is a nonstarter for us,” he said.

Sanderson was referring to language in the bill that essentially gives counties the power to block a mining proposal regardless of circumstances.

A similar measure (HB 1161) is more narrow­ly aimed at uranium mining. It would require mining companies to prove that they will restore groundwater aquifers to their premining quality before they are allowed to use an in-situ leach mining technique.

That process injects chemicals into aquifers to leach out radioactive uranium ore. It can release arsenic, selenium, uranium and other toxic chemicals, poisoning groundwater and the landscape.

The bill also would require mining companies to show that technology exists to clean up any pollution that results from mining.

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