Court hears jurisdictional arguments on N.M. uranium mining

Court hears jurisdictional arguments on N.M. uranium mining

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must decide whether an area of western New Mexico proposed for uranium mining should be treated as Indian land.

Hydro Resources Inc., a New Mexico company, is challenging last year’s decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that an area where the company wants to develop in-situ uranium leach mines is within a “dependent Indian Community.”

The EPA’s decision would require Hydro Resources to get a groundwater injection permit from the EPA and bar the company from relying on a state permit it already has received. The Church Rock area is in what’s called the “checkerboard,” made up of both Indian and non-Indian lands.

In-situ mining involves pumping chemicals into the groundwater to free uranium from the surrounding ore. The uranium-laden water is then pumped to the surface and refined.

Lawyer David Carson, representing the EPA, told the judges that one area where Hydro Resources proposes to mine is within the boundaries of the Church Rock Chapter of the Navajo Nation and meets the standards set out in earlier court rulings for land that qualifies as being within a dependent Indian community.

Flink, representing Hydro Resources, told the judges that the company’s land isn’t legally part of the Navajo reservation and should be considered as private land.

The judges will make a ruling on the case later.

The appeals court on Monday also heard an appeal from citizens’ groups concerned about the proposed mining’s impact on the area’s drinking water.

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