11/06/2017 - Regulatory Rollback

Uranium Extraction Water Quality Standards

by Hana Vizcarra, Laura Bloomer

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why it Matters

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last updated the health and environmental standards for uranium mining in 1995. Since then, the primary method for extracting uranium has changed to in-situ recovery (ISR): pumping a solution into a deposit to dissolve the uranium, which is then collected when the fluid is pumped back out. This can contaminate groundwater if water containing uranium extraction byproducts flows into nearby aquifers. The proposed new rule updates uranium mining regulations by adding a section tailored to ISR, designed to protect groundwater adjacent to production zones.

Current Status

Oct. 30, 2018 EPA withdrew the proposed rule affecting health and environmental standards for uranium mill tailings entirely.

History

Jan. 26, 2015 EPA publishes the proposed rule, “Health and Environmental Protection Standards for Uranium and Thorium Mill Tailings.” The rule would require mine operators to monitor groundwater before, during, and after uranium extraction to aid in preventing and mitigating contamination. This rule proposes 30 years of post-production monitoring and requires that operators take corrective action within 90 days of contamination. A comment period closes April 27, 2015.

April 24, 2015 EPA extends the comment period to May 25, 2015.

Jan. 19, 2017 EPA publishes a new proposed rule “based on public comment and new information received from stakeholders” about the January 2015 proposal. Among other changes, the new rule decreases the post-ISR groundwater monitoring requirement to six years after operations stop, reduces the number of contaminants that must be tested for, and increases the time allowed for cleaning up contamination. The comment period for this rule ends July 18, 2017.

Trump Era

July 18, 2017 The comment period closes.

Aug. 2, 2017 EPA reopens the comment period until Oct. 16, 2017.

Oct. 30, 2018 EPA withdrew the proposed rule affecting health and environmental standards for uranium mill tailings entirely. In its withdrawal, EPA questions whether the proposal was within its authority under the UMTRCA and states it “no longer believes that a national rulemaking to promulgate standards is necessary at this time.” EPA also points to “market circumstances” that make it less of a priority.

For More Information

See Save EPA’s website.