Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Appeals Court Agrees To Rehear N.M. Mine Site Case
An appellate court will review an April ruling that determined a proposed uranium mine site in western New Mexico is on American Indian land.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver granted a request from Hydro Resources Inc., a subsidiary of Uranium Resources Inc., for the full court to reconsider a three-judge panel's decision.
The court said oral arguments probably will be set for January.
Hydro Resources had challenged a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling that the site, surrounded by the Navajo Nation, constitutes "Indian country." The panel sided with the EPA.
Monday's two-page court order for a rehearing said judges received responses on the issue from the Navajo Nation and the EPA and friend-of-the-court briefs from the state of New Mexico and another uranium company, United Nuclear Corp.
New Mexico's brief backed Hydro Resources' request for a rehearing. The state said it is interested solely because of the jurisdictional question the case presents.
The 10th Circuit panel's 2-1 decision means Hydro Resources must obtain a groundwater injection permit from the EPA. That would delay the company's plan to mine uranium near Church Rock.
The state's brief contends the ruling is not in accord with a U.S. Supreme Court decision defining Indian country. Under the definition, the federal government must have set aside the land for Indian use as Indian land, and federal agencies must superintend that land.
The brief also said the decision conflicts with New Mexico case law.
Hydro Resources argues the site, called Section 8, is private land and not legally part of the Navajo reservation.
In 2005, the company sought a permit from New Mexico for the mine, and the state asked the EPA to make a decision on the status of the land.
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