April 17, 2009 / 9:37 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. court upholds EPA finding on NM uranium mine

*Court upholds EPA ruling that mine site is on Navajo land

*Mine would be subject to Clean Safe Drinking Water rules

LOS ANGELES, April 17 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld a 2007 finding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the site of a uranium mine that Hydro Resources Inc plans to operate is on Navajo Nation land and subject to Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.

Hydro Resources (HRI) plans to operate the underground injection mine on a 160-acre (65-hectare) site it owns in McKinley County, New Mexico, a few miles from Church Rock.

Church Rock was the site of a 1979 spill of uranium waste that constitutes the largest release of radioactive waste, by volume, in U.S. history.

HRI obtained a Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to conduct uranium mining on the land, and had applied for a permit from the state of New Mexico when EPA determined the land was under federal jurisdiction, the opinion said.

In denying HRI’s petition for review of the EPA ruling, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in Denver found that “EPA permissibly determined that the ... land falls within a dependent Indian community,” the opinion said.

The act authorizes the EPA to prescribe an underground injection control program for all lands in the United States, including Native American lands, in order to prevent underground injection that endangers drinking water sources, the court said.

Representatives at HRI’s offices in Crownpoint, New Mexico, and at HRI’s parent company, Uranium Resources Inc URRE.O, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The U.S. government has pledged to investigate and clean up uranium contamination across the three-state Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation was left with hundreds of abandoned mines, as well as inactive dump and milling operations and contaminated water, after demand for uranium dropped in the late 1980s, according to EPA. (Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Gary Hill)

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