Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Park Service hydrologist disputed impacts from uranium mining

 A press release from the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today says a National Park Service hydrologist and others were at odds with the Interior Dept. over potential environmental impacts of uranium mining in northern Arizona [right, one million acres of federal land withdrawn from exploration and development shown hatched.  Credit, BLM]
The release said:

Internal emails obtained by the House Natural Resources Committee raise significant questions into the science used by the Obama Administration to justify a 20-year ban on uranium development on one million acres of federal land in Arizona. In the emails, scientists within the National Park Service discuss how the potential environmental impacts were “grossly overestimated” in the Administration’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and that the potential impacts are “very minor to negligible.” 
A National Park Service hydrologist wrote in an internal email, “The DEIS goes to great lengths in an attempt to establish impacts to water resources from uranium mining. It fails to do so, but instead creates enough confusion and obfuscation of hydrologic principles to create the illusion that there could be adverse impacts if uranium mining occurred.” He notes that “previous studies have been unable to detect significant contamination downstream of current or past mining operations” and that “adverse impacts to water resources” is not a reason to be concerned about potential uranium mining operations.
Another employee with the National Park Service wrote that this is a case “where the hard science doesn’t strongly support a policy position.”
I've expressed my frustration that the Secretary of Interior announced his decision before public comments on the Draft EIS had been analyzed or addressed by the federal agencies.   In a conference call with Park Service and Interior officials on the day of the announcement, they told us that they had not read all of the DEIS but had received 300,000 postcards (about 96% of which were preprinted as I recall), and they had enough information to make their decision.  [Update - 5-24-12 8:30pm: I revised this paragraph to correct a misstatement that the withdrawal was made upon release of the DEIS and before public comments had been received.    I apologize for the confusion. See comments below.]

I recognize the Secretary's right to make such decisions on a variety of grounds including political, but today's release challenges the claim that this particular decision was science-based.

Addendum:   Only a handful of emails were released by the House Committee.   We don't know if there were contrary opinions inside the Park Service or how these concerns were ultimately handled.  There is also the matter of 399 pages of materials that Interior did not give the House in 2009 and that the House is going after again.   So, there are more aspects and details on this story that are yet to come.


  1. Gregory Yount5:41 AM

    NEPA, the US constitution, and the APA do not recognize Secretary Salazar's right to make a political decision. If fact, they hold decision making in this manner unlawful.

  2. Anonymous5:57 PM

    The Secretary did not "announce his decision upon release of the Draft EIS." He announced his selection of a preferred alternative several months after the DEIS had been released. It is entirely commonplace for federal agencies to do between the DEIS and FEIS phases of a NEPA process. Agencies often identify a preferred alternative at the outset of a NEPA process, and, importantly, the law requires one be identified if one exists. Salazar wasn't predetermining an outcome, he was simply following the law--the same law uranium boosters should read before complaining (or suing) about.

    Moreover, this is one cherry-picked email among what were likely hundreds in the deliberative internal process that federal officials undergo when rendering NEPA analysis. It directly contradicts testimony from independent, non-industry hydrogeologists like Dr. David Kreamer and Dr. Abe Springer stating that the contamination threat is real and, if realized, cannot be corrected.

    1. The Key issue is that the Hydrologist's professional opinion did not conform to the existing DOI policy. That much is very clear. Therefore, it was Policy that the DEIS and the subsequent FEIS would somehow show that uranium exploration and mining would be detrimental. The EIS was writen to support a policy decision already made! This kind of policy is unlawful and is a violation of NEPA.

      A second issue is the fact that the USGS hydrologist would not even comment to other government hydrologists on the content of the Draft EIS. I would assume that this would have been Don Bills. I asked Don Bills about his thoughts on the water resources section of the DEIS at one of the public meetings and he vociferously refused to comment on the Draft and would say only that he would answer for the SIR 2010-5025 report he helped write.

      Why is it that the Government's own scientists will not speak up about the EIS. Are they afraid of being sanctioned? I have heard of several government professionals in the BLM and USGS that have been threatened with retaliation for their opinions on this EIS.

      Shame on the DOI for their abhorent behavior.

      I am in the process of suing the DOI for this lame EIS. The emails that were leaked to the Natural Resources committee represent a person that must have been totally dissed by their superiors in the DOI and was sickened by thier casual abuse of the EIS process and the law.

      I would welcome any information such as is in those emails and we will see if they are a cherry picked few or part of a wide spread pattern.

      It seemed amazing to me that anyone would commit to writting that there was an unwriiten policy for how the EIS was to be manipulated. I would like to see other emails of this type.

      If you are in the NPS, USGS,BLM, or DOI management, and your conscience is bothering you regarding this EIS, you have before you the example of what another has done. Feel free to follow suite.

      Gregory Yount
      The NAU Project, LLC

  3. Thanks for this clarification. The Draft EIS was released February 18, 2011. BLM told the cooperating agencies that agency heads were briefed with summaries of public comments on June 6-7. I'll update my post.

    On June 15, the cooperating agencies were told that BLM would be gathering the additional data that was needed and that the federal agencies had yet to get together to review substantive comments and prepare their responses.

    The Secretary's withdrawal was announced June 20.

    Thus, to our knowledge, the Secretary made his decision without benefit of the agencies reviewing the substantive comments and providing analyses.

  4. Anonymous5:54 AM ANYONE surprised by this?? Really??
    Our government?? Please

  5. I've said this before over the past year. I feel that the process was cut off midway. It is difficult to dedicate people's time and resources on efforts where the results are not even considered. It made us feel like we were being used to help provide legitimacy to a flawed process. Subsequently, we scaled back our involvement in the EIS.

  6. I get the distinct impression that the observations of geologists and hydrologists are often ignored (or completely misinterpreted), by both government and private agencies.