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State likely to approve UEC permit Wednesday

By by Dianna Wray
Feb. 22, 2011 at 7 p.m.
Updated Feb. 21, 2011 at 8:22 p.m.


WHAT'S NEXT?The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has to get an aquifer exemption from the EPA for the Evangeline Aquifer.

EXEMPTED AQUIFER

An aquifer, or a portion of an aquifer, that meets the criteria for underground source drinking water, which is protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act, has been waived by the Underground Injection Control Program.

An aquifer may be exempted if it is not currently being used - and will not be used - as a drinking water source.

Without an aquifer exemption, certain types of energy production, mining, or waste disposal into an aquifer would be prohibited. EPA makes the final determination on granting all exemptions.

SOURCE: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

Uranium Energy Corp. is about to get the OK from the state to mine uranium in Goliad County.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is set to vote on UEC's uranium mining application on Wednesday, and they're likely to approve it.

UEC and Goliad County have grappled over whether the company would build a uranium mining facility in the county for the past four years.

Goliad residents have expressed concern over the effect in-situ mining techniques will have on the Evangeline Aquifer and the groundwater in the area.

UEC representatives insist that the mining technique is safe.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted to approve UEC's Underground Injection Proposal permit application in December.

The state regulatory commission heard arguments from both sides before voting to approve UEC's application, ordering UEC to revise the application and submit it for final approval in January.

The commissioners vote to approve the permit effectively ignored the recommendations of Administrative Law Judge Richard Wilfong, who had advised the commissioners to require a pump test on the site before approving the permit.

The hearing scheduled on Wednesday morning is described by all sides as being routine and a matter of form.

UEC representative Matt Welch said in an e-mail that UEC viewed the matter settled after the commission's ruling in December.

Welch also wrote that the UEC views Wednesday morning's proceedings as "a non-substantive administrative matter that is procedural in nature."

While more than 50 Goliad residents traveled by bus to Austin to argue against the permit in December, there were no plans to do so Wednesday.

Art Dohmann, president of the Goliad County Groundwater Preservation District, said the board did not know whether they would continue to oppose uranium mining, but noted that they were concerned about what it could do to drinking water in the area.

"It is not our position to the groundwater district to oppose the use of water," Dohmann said. "Our purpose is to manage it in regards to the quality of it and the use of it."

TCEQ spokesperson Lisa Wheeler said the draft area permit and production area authorization will be sent to TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw for signatures.

A motion of rehearing can be filed with the chief clerk for 20 days after both sides have been notified of the decision. If a motion for rehearing isn't granted, the decision becomes final 45 days after the initial decision, Wheeler said.

Jim Blackburn, the lawyer representing Goliad County, said he expected TCEQ commissioners to approve the permit.

Blackburn said they plan to continue opposing the mining.

However, Blackburn said they plan to look to the Environmental Protection Agency next. The federal agency has to grant an aquifer exemption to the project to make it final.

Blackburn said they are hoping the EPA will rule in their favor.

"We intend to submit to the EPA, and hopefully, they will ask the right questions," Blackburn said.

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