The South Texas mining company Uranium Resources, Inc. (URI) is lobbying Texas legislators in the final days of the session for an exemption from current laws that provide the opportunity for public scrutiny of the company’s operations.
A Monday hearing of the House Environmental Regulation Committee will consider one such measure, a provision attached to SB 1667, which passed the Senate last week. SB 1667, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Robert Duncan, was designed to consolidate regulatory authority for oversight of radioactive waste disposal with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), a move supported by several environmental organizations.
Language amended in the last moments of Senate debate would overturn a court decision that allows local governments and citizens to participate in decisions about uranium mining expansions. At present, public notice of proposed expansions is required. The public has recourse to seek a “contested case” proceeding when a uranium mining company seeks to expand operations through what is called a Production Authorization Area (PAA). The version of SB 1677 that passed the Senate would exempt “minor” PAAs from public notice and opportunity for a contested case hearing. The bill in effect defines the present URI application as a minor PAA.
A Kleberg County pharmacist whose extended family lives adjacent to the URI PAA currently contested in the State Office of Administrative Hearings, Teo Saenz said, “We believe this company has polluted the water here without concern for our community’s well-being. They haven’t remedied the situation and we want to keep our rights to participate in the democratic process of saying, ‘No!’ to their starting up mining again.”
Saenz’ citizens group STOP (South Texas is Opposed to Pollution) is concerned that drinking water wells have already been and will continue to be contaminated by URI’s mining activities.
In October of 2004, members of the group and area residents received a letter from Region 6 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which informed them that “gross alpha radiation was detected at five to eight times above EPA’s standard” and advised them to discontinue drinking their water and “consult their family doctor.”
“The public has a fundamental right to protect their drinking water and their health,” said Cyrus Reed, a Sierra Club spokesperson. “No uranium mining company should be allowed to take away that right. We will fight to eliminate URI’s special interest provision in SB 1667.”
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