The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management is responsible for administering the DOE Uranium Leasing Program (ULP) and its 31 uranium lease tracts located in the Uravan Mineral Belt of southwestern Colorado. The ULP began in 1948 when Congress authorized the U.S. Atomic Energy Commis-sion (AEC), a predecessor agency of DOE, to withdraw lands from the public domain for the sole purpose of exploring for, developing, and mining uranium ore bodies. Through a series of public land orders, AEC took control of approximately 500,000 acres of land in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The U.S. Geological Survey assisted AEC in implementing a massive exploration program to identify lands that contained the most favorable geologic formations for uranium. Subsequently, AEC retained only lands (approximately 25,000 acres) that met the most favorable criteria. Those lands were the basis for the AEC’s initial mineral leasing program from 1948 through 1962. A second leasing period was initiated in the early 1970s and continued through 1994. A third leasing period was initiated in 1996 and continued through April 2008 and the fourth leasing period was initiated in April 2008.
On July 31, 2008, a Civil Action Summons was filed against DOE in the U.S. District Court (Court) for the District of Colorado on behalf of four environmental organizations— Colorado Environmental Coalition, Information Network for Responsible Mining, Center for Native Ecosystems, and Center for Biological Diversity. The complaint alleged that DOE’s ULP actions violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including the 2007 Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) process, and through its actions, DOE is responsible for the resurgence of activity within the domestic uranium industry. The complaint was later amended to include violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the DOE ULP.
Consistent with NEPA and the Council on Environ-mental Quality’s (CEQ’s) implementing regulations, an Environmental Impact Statement is prepared when an agency’s proposed actions may have significant impacts on the environment. A PEIS evaluates the environmental impacts of broad agency actions, such as those that may be associated with the ULP. Future NEPA documents may be prepared (tiered) from the PEIS process for individual site-specific actions, as appropriate.
On June 21, 2011, a “Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Uranium Leasing Program” was published in the Federal Register. A Supplement to the NOI announcing plans to prepare a PEIS for the DOE ULP was issued in the Federal Register on July 21, 2011. This Supplement announced public scoping meeting dates, times, and locations and extended the scoping period to September 9, 2011. Four public meetings on the proposed scope of the PEIS were held during this scoping period.
There are currently nine agencies who will participate in the PEIS as Cooperating Agencies. These include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management; Colorado Department of Transportation; Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety; Mesa County Board of Commissioners; Montrose County Board of Commissioners; San Juan County Commission; Southern Ute Indian Tribe; and the Navajo Nation. Additional agencies are still in the process of deciding whether they will be a Cooperating Agency or only require updates as the PEIS progresses.
A meeting was held with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on November 9, 2011, and DOE initiated the informal consultation process under the Endangered Species Act. A Biological Assessment will be performed, which may result in the initiation of a formal consultation process.
Tentatively, DOE is anticipating the Draft PEIS being completed by April 30, 2012, and the Final PEIS being completed by May 24, 2013. For more information, please go to http://ulpeis.anl.gov.