DENVER A federal judge has overturned all the uranium mining leases the federal government issued in Southwest Colorado.
The decision throws out 31 leases to six companies, including the firm that wants to build a uranium mill near Naturita and a company owned by state Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose.
U.S. District Judge William Martinez invalidated the leases because the Department of Energy did not do a deep enough environmental study before it issued them.
The DOE said this summer it would do the study, but Martinez issued the ruling anyway on Wednesday, saying he wanted to make sure DOE leaders did not change their minds again.
Environmental groups that sued to overturn the leases hailed the ruling as a huge victory.
The Department of Energy has thumbed its nose at environmental laws for too long; todays ruling is a big course correction, said Taylor McKinnon, public-lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a written statement.
The federal government has been leasing about 40 square miles of land in the Four Corners to uranium companies since shortly after World War II. The DOE renewed the lease program in 2005 and sought to expand the number of leases from 13 to 31.
The department did an Environmental Assessment that found no significant problems with the expansion. But environmental groups, led by the Colorado Environmental Coalition, sued, saying the government should have to do a more in-depth Environmental Impact Statement.
The case dragged on for three years, but this summer, the DOE filed notice that it would do an EIS.
Despite the DOEs move, Martinez overturned the program because there is insufficient evidence before the court that the planned EIS will indeed be completed, he wrote in a 53-page ruling.
Coram, who represents part of Montezuma County, owns Gold Eagle Mining. The company holds three of the leases that were overturned, but Coram said the court ruling is not a problem.
The DOE already has said it would take 12 to 15 months to do another environmental study.
It puts everything down the road to about 2014, as far as were concerned. That was the schedule we were working on anyway, Coram said. Im certainly not concerned about it.
Energy Fuels Resources Corp. had six leases overturned. The company is planning to build the countrys first new uranium mill in more than 20 years in the Paradox Valley.
An Energy Fuels spokesman did not return a call Thursday.
Reach Joe Hanel at email@example.com.