Uranium Regulations Prompt Sunset Review Recommendations

 

For nearly four years, executive committee members of the Coastal Bend Sierra Club (CBSC) have closely followed efforts by Uranium Energy Corporation (UEC) to obtain a permit for in situ uranium mining in Goliad County.  During this time, UEC received a permit to drill there from the Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC), the agency which regulates pre-mining uranium borehole drilling in Texas.

 

Goliad County officials and many citizens contended that exploration and in situ uranium mining have a negative impact on groundwater.  This resulted in the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District (GCGCD) and Goliad County taking legal actions—including a contested case hearing—to block TCEQ’s issuance of a mining permit to UEC.  That hearing was conducted by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and was held in May 2010. Written closing arguments from attorneys for both sides were filed in July, and the hearing’s Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is now reviewing those arguments.

 

Some details of CBSC’s interactions with TRRC and TCEQ during official public comment periods and stakeholder meetings (2007 – 2009) re efforts by these agencies to revise some of their uranium regulations can be found on this CBSC website by going to South Texas Uranium News.

 

Now, in 2010, both TRRC and TCEQ are undergoing the Sunset Review process.  CBSC, based on its experience with and knowledge of Texas regulations of in situ uranium mining, has sent the following comments and recommendations to the Sunset Staff with a request that they be included in their report to the Sunset Advisory Committee.

 

 

COASTAL BEND GROUP

SIERRA CLUB

 

 

P.O. BOX 3512

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX 78404

 

August 13, 2010

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

ATTENTION SUNSET STAFF:

The Coastal Bend Sierra Club (CBSC) offers the following observations and recommendations and requests that they be included when the Sunset Staff submits its report to the Sunset Advisory Commission.

 

Since our membership area includes counties involved with uranium exploration, CBSC has been working with issues related to uranium exploration and applications to mine in these counties for the past 3 years.  Our involvement has led us to these observations and recommendations in the hope that they will be constructive in the Sunset Review process of The Texas Railroad Commission (TRRC).

 

The following comments have resulted from our participation in public meetings and our written communications to TRRC during their efforts to draft regulations to implement HB 3837. Additionally, while studying the present and proposed TRRC regulations governing uranium exploration, we have had discussions with both public officials and industry representatives. This close involvement has led us to one primary observation and recommendation and several other important recommendations.

 

Primary observation:

First of all—and above all the other observations—we have concluded that uranium exploration prior to   in situ uranium mining should be housed under the jurisdiction of one governmental regulatory agency.   As matters now stand, with exploration under TRRC and mining under The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the communication between stakeholders and these two state agencies is unwieldy and confusing, especially to Texas citizens who wish to participate in the regulating of their two most precious and essential natural resources: air and water. Further, the present division of responsibility at the state level leaves TRRC and TCEQ vulnerable to suspicion by the public—even when unwarranted –that the agencies are “passing the buck” between them in critical matters. This cumbersome entanglement, which places citizens at a distinct disadvantage, could be alleviated to a considerable extent if one state agency governed both exploration and in situ uranium mining.

 

Primary recommendation:

Uranium exploration prior to in situ uranium mining should be placed under the jurisdiction of TCEQ.

 

Comment:

Even if the Commission adopts the currently proposed 16 TAC Chapter 11 rules, nevertheless we believe there are areas needing revisions. To improve significantly the process of regulating uranium exploration and to improve groundwater protection, we offer the following additional recommendations.

 

Additional recommendations:

1.       Baseline groundwater quality should be assessed by valid scientific methodology before drilling of exploration boreholes begins.

2.       Exploration boreholes should be drilled no less than 500 feet from an existing water well without the written consent of the well owner.

 

3.       Mandatory inspections of exploration sites should be conducted to assure that exploration boreholes are properly plugged within the time interval stipulated by the regulations.

4.       Significant penalties should be assessed if infractions of regulations are discovered.

 

Conclusion:

Coastal Bend Sierra Club members believe that adoption of our primary recommendation would improve the continuity, convenience, and efficiency of implementation of regulations governing uranium exploration and mining in Texas, thus benefitting industry, county governments, groundwater districts, and landowners as well.

We appreciate this opportunity to participate in the Sunset Review of The Texas Railroad Commission.

Given today’s rapidly changing energy developments and market, we urge the State to undertake this kind of review of the Commission much more frequently than has been its practice in the past.

Cordially,

 

Patricia Suter, Chair

Coastal Bend Sierra Club

 

Venice Scheurich, Conservation Chair

Coastal Bend Sierra Club

 

 

 

 

 

COASTAL BEND GROUP

SIERRA CLUB

 

 

P.O. BOX 3512

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX 78404

 

July 16, 2010

 

ATTENTION SUNSET STAFF:

The Coastal Bend Sierra Club offers the two recommendations below and requests that they be included when the Sunset Staff submits its report to the Sunset Advisory Commission.

Members of Coastal Bend Sierra Club have attended TCEQ meetings and hearings on permit applications. Our group has made official comments involving permit applications for uranium mining in South Texas and also for the proposed Las Brisas power plant in Corpus Christi. Additionally, our organization actively participated in TCEQ’s recent revision of uranium mining regulations (30 TAC 331).

Through these activities during the past several years, it has become clear to us that the following recommendations, if implemented, would significantly improve the processes of permitting and public participation throughout all permit-granting divisions of TCEQ.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

         Regarding permitting—A thorough statistical evaluation by credentialed statisticians should become an integral part of TCEQ’s evaluation of all permit applications involving collection, manipulation, analysis, or interpretation of data. (Note: Data includes assumed or hypothetical values used in mathematical modeling for permit applications as well as actual measured values.)

         Regarding public participationAll public comments received by TCEQ during the public comment/public meeting period re applications for permits should be made available verbatim on the TCEQ website at the earliest possible legally permissible time after the close of the comment period.

Patricia Suter, Chair

Coastal Bend Sierra Club

 

Venice Scheurich, Conservation Chair

Coastal Bend Sierra Club