The New Orleans court ruled Dec. 9 that the EPA could have 60 days to gather more public input. Attorney James B. Blackburn Jr. is listed along with several Goliad County residents as petitioners in the appeal.
“The EPA has recognized that they had problems with their decision documents,” Blackburn said Friday. “We will work with the EPA to try and get them to change their opinion.”
The aquifer exemption was the final environmental hurdle required for UEC to start its mining operations in Goliad County.
In a statement emailed to the Advance-Guard, spokesperson Matt Welch said UEC was happy with the court’s decision.
“We are pleased by the ruling from the Fifth Circuit because the court’s ruling does not void or vacate UEC’s aquifer exemption. Instead, the court has allowed EPA the opportunity, as EPA requested, to allow for more public input. However, the court placed a deadline on EPA to accomplish this within 60 days as was requested by the State of Texas.”
Blackburn, who filed a similar suit against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Travis County after TCEQ granted UEC an aquifer exemption, said the EPA had planned to hold a hearing in Goliad and may still conduct one before the 60-day deadline.
“They wanted to get more public input on the documents that UEC submitted and no one had ever seen before,” Blackburn said. “Part of the problem is UEC submitted documents after the close of comments. Several Goliad citizens and myself had been exchanging with UEC the concerns we had. Then more information was submitted by UEC and that information was never subject to any public scrutiny. This is to go back and do the process right and the EPA will reconsider whether or not to grant the aquifer exemption.”
Blackburn said he and his environmental consultants weren’t able to address UEC’s new information with the EPA.
“They changed the configuration of the boundaries of the aquifer exemption area,” Blackburn said. “There was a modification of what was litigated before the TCEQ and the administrative law process. They offered certain supporting documents about the rate of flow and a lot of technical information.
“We have experts as well and our experts have substantial issues with the information that UEC submitted, but they never had a chance to explain that to the EPA.”
Blackburn said there could be a public hearing scheduled in Goliad in January.
“Frankly, we haven’t gotten our act together yet,” Blackburn said. “The timing isn’t the best. holidays are particularly tough.”
Meanwhile, Welch said UEC will move ahead with plans to begin mining.
“Our Goliad Project continues to advance as planned and we have already ordered materials and equipment that is expected on site in the very near future,” Welch said. “We fully expect to be operational in fiscal 2014.
“Numerous local, state and federal agencies have recognized that uranium is a safe, viable and clean energy source. Uranium production and nuclear power are an essential part of our country’s overall energy policy and the Goliad project is a vital part of that effort. We look forward to creating jobs and economic development for Goliad County and the surrounding region.”