Keep the Colorado
April 5, 2000
Ten and a half million tons of toxic mine wastes generated
by the now-defunct Atlas Mine are stored in a tailings pond
located immediately adjacent to the Colorado River near Moab,
Utah. The tailings pond, built in the 1950's, is not lined, and
as a result, these radioactive and toxic wastes are seeping down
through the aquifer into the Colorado River.
Water from the Colorado River makes up a significant part of the
drinking water supply for Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix
and Tucson, and is used additionally to irrigate hundreds of
thousands of acres of agricultural lands. Moreover, the tailings
pond, which has been designated as critical habitat for four
endangered species, is situated between Canyonlands and Arches
Leaving a huge, leaking tailings pile right next to the Colorado
River does not make sense. In the event of flood, the river could
easily be contaminated. Yet, until recently, the federal government
was willing to allow the Atlas Corporation to reclaim the site by
simply placing a dirt cap over the top of the pile. This plan will
not stop contamination of the Colorado River, which is expected to
continue for hundreds of years. To address this problem, on January
19, 1999, Representatives Pelosi, Gutierrez, Filner and I introduced
H.R. 393, a bill to require the Department of Energy to move
the tailings to a safe location and then direct the Attorney General
to ascertain the liability of the Atlas Corporation, and its parent
companies, to secure reimbursement as appropriate. This bill was
referred to the Commerce Committee where it has languished.
I introduced this bill after years of advocating removal of these
toxic wastes from the banks of the Colorado River. But, until now
the Executive Branch has refused to take responsibility for cleaning
up this site. Thankfully, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has
recognized the foolishness of this approach and, earlier this year,
proposed an "agreement-in-principle" that will enable the abandoned
Atlas uranium mill tailings site to be moved away from the Colorado
River to a safer location. The Administration has also requested $10
million for fiscal year 2001 to undertake the studies and data
collection necessary to reclaim the Atlas site. I hope you will join
me in urging the Appropriations Committee to make these funds
In addition to moving the toxic tailings away from the Colorado
River, Secretary Richardson's proposal also includes solutions to
several other public lands issues in Utah: the return of certain
federal lands to the Northern Ute Indian Tribe; reservation of a
production royalty on future oil and gas development of those lands;
and protection of a quarter-mile corridor along 75-miles of the
Green River adjacent to Ute tribal lands.
Today I join Reps. Cannon, Filner, Napolitano, and 47 other House
colleagues (see list attached) in sponsoring H.R. 4165, a
revised bi-partisan bill that will accomplish the full range of
goals outlined by the Departments of Energy and Interior and most
importantly, will assure that the toxic mill tailings are moved away
from the Colorado River to a safe location. I am assured that the
Resources Committee will take up this proposal in the near future.
If you are interested in cosponsoring this bill, or have questions
on the subject matter, please contact Deborah Lanzone, Resources
Committee Democratic staff at 226-2311.
Original Co-Sponsors of H.R.
Berman, Howard L.
Bilbray, Brian P.
Capuano, Michael E.
Cummings, Elijah E.
Forbes. Michael P.
Gutierrez, Luis V.
Hansen, James V.
Lipinski, William O. - 4/4/2000
Meek, Carrie P.
Serrano, Jose E.
Velazquez, Nydia M.
Weiner, Anthony D.