Issuance of UEC permit a form of tyranny

Dec. 24, 2010 at 6:24 a.m.
Updated Dec. 25, 2010 at 6:25 a.m.

On Dec. 14, the commissioners of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted to issue a permit to Uranium Energy Corporation to conduct underground uranium mining in northern Goliad County.

We believe this action violated state and federal law. But perhaps more importantly, it violated the contract that the TCEQ commissioners have with the people that it governs - the people who depend upon it to protect their groundwater. It was a conscious, premeditated act of tyranny that was a strike against the citizens in Goliad County and the citizens in Texas.

We had an election recently, an election that sent a message and shock waves from the voters to elected officials. Voters were angry with a government they believed was not responsive to their needs, a government that failed to respect their rights, their property, their integrity. The message was intended for all levels of government including the current regime running the state of Texas.

The citizens in Goliad County asked their county government to spend precious tax money to oppose these permits in a trial-type hearing in order to protect their groundwater. And make no mistake about it, - groundwater is the key to the economic development future of Goliad County. The landowners of Goliad County rely exclusively on groundwater and captured rainwater. There is no dependable water source, day-in and day-out, other than groundwater.

Goliad County voted to participate in a state governmental proceeding overseen by TCEQ. They voted to seek review of this permit under a set of laws and rules containing important requirements. For example, the law is clear that no permit can be issued without a finding that the groundwater can be protected if the permit is issued. Section 27.051(a)(3) of the Texas Water Code states: "The commission may grant an application in whole or part and may issue the permit if it finds: (3) that, with proper safeguards, both ground and surface fresh water can be adequately protected from pollution." That is what the law says the commissioners must determine before issuing an in situ mining permit.

Goliad County participated in an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge where UEC was required to prove that they could undertake the mining plan and not damage the groundwater of adjoining neighbors - neighbors who have no other source of water. Based on the information presented at the hearing, the administrative law judge made several fact findings. Among them are the following:

".The ALJ concludes that the application may not be sufficiently protective of groundwater."

"The ALJ concludes that mining fluids may migrate vertically and horizontally and may contaminate a USDW [Underground Source of Drinking Water].."

"The ALJ concludes that USDWs within Goliad County and outside the proposed aquifer exemption area may be adversely impacted by UEC's proposed in situ uranium activities."

In summary, Administrative Law Judge Wilfong wrote, "After considering the evidence and arguments presented, the administrative law judge concludes that there remain unresolved issues which preclude a recommendation that the applications be granted at this time."

The law requires protection of groundwater. The hearing was held to determine if the application protected groundwater. The judge determined that UEC's application did not demonstrate protection of groundwater, validating the citizens' initial fears. And the TCEQ commissioners issued the permit anyway - issued the permit without addressing the key issue that it was required to answer - "Can groundwater be protected if this permit is issued?"

In our opinion, the TCEQ commissioners violated their contract with the citizens in Goliad County to apply the law and to protect their groundwater. We have seldom witnessed such a clear avoidance of responsibility - of duty - of obligation. It was just wrong.

The commissioners of the TCEQ clearly have not heard the voice of the people - people concerned about abusive government - government that does not listen to the needs of people - government that uses its power to take people's rights away. What happened to Goliad County and the citizens in Goliad County in Austin was a form of theft.

Groundwater that arguably belongs to the landowner has been put at risk by a governmental agency that ignores the rule of law and the findings of a judge assigned to hear the evidence and make fact findings.

This action by the TCEQ on UEC's permit is a form of tyranny. And every reader of this newspaper can and will suffer from it if it is allowed to continue.

Jim Blackburn and Adam Friedman are environmental lawyers working with the BlackburnCarter Law Firm of Houston who represented Goliad County in opposition to UEC's in situ mining permit.



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