The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision on Friday, July 20, in the case Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Court’s decision supports the Tribe’s arguments and is an important step in protecting the Black Hills from uranium mining.
Download complete document: OST v NRC Court merits decision filed 7-20-18
The decision is one step in a long process surrounding the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine in Custer and Fall River Counties on the southwest edge of the Black Hills. The project would use the in situ leach method of uranium mining and includes over 10,000 acres. It would also have dire consequences for Lakota cultural resources, the area’s water, and our tourism and agriculture economy.
The case was filed by the Oglala Sioux Tribe in an attempt to protect cultural resources and reverse a license that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued to Powertech/Azarga, a foreign company. The license would allow the company to handle radioactive materials as part of mining and processing uranium.
The Tribe said that the NRC staff’s issuance of a license before considering the potential impacts of mining on cultural resources was wrong. The Court of Appeals agreed, chiding the NRC for a pattern of issuing licenses before full consideration of projects’ potential impacts. The Court said that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that all potential impacts of a project be thoroughly considered before a license is issued. This decision could have far-reaching impacts, as it supports the NEPA process at a time when it is under attack by the Trump administration.
The Court stopped short of overturning the company’s license. Instead, it returned the case to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for further consideration in light of its discussion in the decision. This discussion makes it clear that the Commission should not have issued the license until identification and consideration of cultural resources was complete under the NEPA process. The Court also effectively forbade any ground disturbing activities until all laws are complied with.
The company would need to get at least ten permits and licenses to be able to start its mining project. After 12 years of activity in South Dakota, it has only received the NRC license, and that license is now in danger of being reversed.
Clean Water Alliance applauds the Court’s decision and the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s leadership on this issue. We now hope that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will follow the law, take away the company’s license, and complete consideration of all potential impacts from this project. We believe that full consideration will show that the proposed uranium mine’s impacts would be unacceptable and that the project should not go ahead.