On May 18, a 10th Circuit US Appeals Court denied
the New Mexico Environmental Law Center's second appeal to stop a license to mine uranium in northwest New Mexico.
Though the court's decision brings New Mexico one step closer to the "uranium mining renaissance"
the mining industry is yearning
for, NMELC Staff Attorney (and lead counsel in the appeal) Eric Jantz says it won't happen. "This," Jantz promises, "is by no means over."
This most recent decision has its roots in March, when the same court ruled 2-1 (pdf
) to uphold a license issued by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The license allows mining outfit Hydro Resources Inc. to extract uranium from two historically mined (and contaminated) sites bordering Navajo land. (Click here
to read SFR's past coverage.) The NMELC re-appealed
in April, but to no avail.
Jantz says he's discussing legal next-steps with his clients, which include the activist group Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining (ENDAUM
). In the meantime, he says, there are plenty of other reasons not to view this as a green light
—among them a separate, pending lawsuit and HRI's somewhat shaky financial situation.
HRI's parent company, Uranium Resources Inc., states in its 2009 annual report
that part of what's delaying its mining activities here is "a lawsuit to determine whether the US Environmental Protection Agency or the State of New Mexico has the jurisdiction to issue the Underground Injection Control program permits"—a separate permit from the one NMELC has disputed.
suit is settled—which is also on appeal in the 10th Circuit—HRI claims it could start mining within 18 to 24 months.
Jantz, too, is awaiting the outcome of that case. If the court rules that the permit falls under state jurisdiction, he says, HRI will be "a lot closer to opening uranium mines in northwest New Mexico. But if the court rules in the EPA's favor, as three of its judges did in 2009, Jantz says HRI will have to undergo a lengthy process, either through court appeals or exemption applications.
But there's another problem: "The company's broke," Jantz says. "I can't imagine they're going to be breaking ground on anything anytime soon."
Not broke per se, but not exactly thriving: According to URI's 2009 annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company suffered losses of $10 million in 2009 and $26.5 million in 2008. That's left it with $6.1 million in the bank—a risk factor even URI acknowledges. From last year's annual report:
Because we have limited capital, we are unable to withstand significant losses... We may require additional financing in order to complete our plan of operations.
Then there's this (SEC reports can be fun!):
The Navajo Nation ban on uranium mining in Indian Country encompasses approximately 84% of our in-place mineralized uranium material on our properties in New Mexico and will adversely affect our ability to mine unless the ban is overturned.
We may not be able to mine a substantial portion of our uranium in New Mexico until a mill is built in New Mexico.
And finally, the kicker:
Our operations are subject to environmental risks.
So, favorable court decision or not (depending on whom you ask), it sounds like it'll be a while before northwest New Mexico sees renewed mining. Or as Jantz puts it, "This is by no means over.
The communities have kept the uranium mining company at bay for 20 years, and they're ready to go more."