U.S. EPA withdraws proposed Obama-era rule change for uranium mining

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sign is seen on the podium at EPA headquarters in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ting Shen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday it has withdrawn a regulation proposed in the last days of the Obama administration that aimed to tighten health and safety compliance rules for uranium miners.

On Jan. 19, 2017 - a day before Donald Trump took office as president - the EPA had proposed standards to regulate byproduct materials produced by uranium in-situ recovery (ISR) activities, with a primary focus on groundwater protection and restoration.

On Friday, the EPA said existing rules were enough for the protection of public health and safety from radiological and non-radiological hazards associated with uranium and thorium ore processing.

The decision is the latest by the Republican Trump administration to roll back environmental rules promoted by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

EPA’s acting administrator Andrew Wheeler said the proposed rule change would have imposed “significant burdens” on uranium producers.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has regulated in situ uranium recovery for nearly 40 years. The agency has never found an instance of ground water contamination that would be addressed by this rule,” said Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, a Republican.

The National Mining Association (NMA) hailed the decision.

The rule “failed to articulate a risk that justified the rulemaking, ignored the need for a realistic cost-benefit analysis, and underestimated compliance costs and impacts to small businesses,” NMA President Hall Quinn said.

(This story has been refilled to correct attribution in paragraph 6 to U.S. Senate environment panel chairman instead of acting EPA administrator)

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Grant McCool