- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Rio Grande Resources’ underground mine in western New Mexico contains one of the largest stashes of uranium ore in the U.S., but it’s idle and hasn’t produced anything in years.

It’s one of many “zombie mines” around the West that environmentalists say need to be closed and cleaned up rather than left on standby as companies wait for uranium prices and demand to rebound so operations can resume.

“It hasn’t operated in 25 years, and pretending that it will operate in the future just prevents real cleanup in our communities,” said Susan Gordon, a coordinator with the Albuquerque-based Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment.

Members of the environmental coalition gathered Friday in Grants to testify before state regulators as they consider whether to renew Rio Grande Resources’ standby permit and an updated version of the mine’s closure plan.

It could be weeks before the New Mexico Mining and Minerals Division makes a final decision.

The testimony comes after a court battle over a 2011 decision by a state hearing officer to limit comment on the economic viability of the mine, the company’s financial assurances and the mine’s ability to comply with environmental laws.

State water quality officials said earlier this year that the mining company was cleaning up the effects of groundwater contamination at the mine site, but critics accused Rio Grande Resources of failing to conduct interim cleanup work under previous standby permits.

Messages seeking comment from Rio Grande Resources and parent company San Diego-based General Atomics were not returned Friday.

Eric Jantz, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, said the state is not alone in having to manage “zombie mines.” Pointing to idle operations in Utah, Arizona and Colorado, he said current production is expected to satisfy demand for years to come.

“This a problem all over the West, and it needs to be addressed by the regulatory agencies,” he said. “Regulatory agencies either have to require these companies to do interim reclamation or they have to force them to fish or cut bait.”

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