[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 119 (Tuesday, June 21, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 36097-36100]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-15408]


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DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY


Notice of Intent To Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact 
Statement for the U.S. Department of Energy Uranium Leasing Program

AGENCY: Department of Energy (DOE).

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare a programmatic environmental impact 
statement for the DOE Uranium Leasing Program.

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SUMMARY: DOE announces its intent to prepare a Programmatic 
Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), pursuant to the National 
Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) (42 U.S.C. 4321, et seq.), the 
Council on Environmental Quality's (CEQ) NEPA regulations (40 CFR Parts 
1500-1508), and DOE's NEPA implementing procedures (10 CFR part 1021), 
to analyze the reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts, including 
the site-specific impacts, of alternatives for the management of DOE's 
Uranium Leasing Program (ULP), under which DOE administers tracts of 
land for the exploration, development, and extraction of uranium and 
vanadium ores. DOE's ULP includes tracts of land located in Mesa, 
Montrose, and San Miguel counties in western Colorado that cover a 
cumulative acreage of approximately 25,000 acres. In July 2007, DOE 
issued a Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) for the ULP (DOE/
EA-1535) (available at http://www.lm.doe.gov/land/sites/uranium_leasing/uranium_leasing.htm), in which it examined three alternatives 
for the management of the ULP for the next ten years. In that same 
month, DOE issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) (available 
at http://nepa.energy.gov/documents/EA-1535FONSI.pdf), in which DOE 
announced its decision to proceed with the preferred ``Expanded Program 
Alternative'' that was examined in its July 2007 PEA, and also 
determined that the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS) was not required.
    DOE has determined that, in light of the site-specific information 
that DOE has gathered as a result of the site-specific agency actions 
proposed and approved pursuant to the July 2007 PEA/FONSI, it is now 
appropriate for DOE to prepare a PEIS in order to analyze the 
reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts, including the site-
specific impacts, of a range of alternatives for the management of the 
ULP for the remainder of the ten-year period that was covered by the 
July 2007 PEA.
    DOE is issuing this Notice of Intent (NOI) to inform interested 
parties of this PEIS and to invite public comments on its proposed 
scope, including the preliminary range of alternatives and 
environmental issues to be considered. DOE plans to invite Federal, 
state, and local governmental agencies with jurisdiction by law or 
special expertise to participate as cooperating agencies in preparing 
the PEIS.

DATES: DOE invites comments on the proposed scope of the PEIS. To 
ensure consideration, comments must be submitted by August 22, 2011. 
DOE will consider comments e-mailed or postmarked after that date to 
the extent practicable. In addition to receiving written comments (see 
ADDRESSES below), DOE will conduct public scoping meetings during which 
interested government agencies, Native American tribes, private-sector 
organizations, and the general public are invited to present oral and 
written comments. DOE will announce the dates, times, and locations of 
the public scoping meetings in a separate Federal Register notice and 
in local news media at least 15 days before the meetings.

ADDRESSES: Written comments on the scope of the PEIS and requests to be 
included in future communications should be addressed to the ULP 
Program Manager, Ms. Laura Kilpatrick, Esq., Realty Officer, Asset 
Management Team, Office of Legacy Management, U.S. Department of 
Energy, 11025 Dover Street, Suite 1000, Westminster, CO 80021, 720-880-
4338, laura.kilpatrick@lm.doe.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information about this 
PEIS, please contact the ULP Program Manager, Ms. Laura Kilpatrick, at 
the addresses listed above.
    For general information on the DOE NEPA process, please contact Ms. 
Carol M. Borgstrom, Director, Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance (GC-
54), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue, SW., 
Washington, DC 20585; telephone (202-586-4600); fax (202-586-7031); or 
leave a toll-free message (1-800-472-2756).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Congress directed DOE's predecessor agency, the U.S. Atomic Energy 
Commission (AEC), to develop a supply of domestic uranium that would 
adequately meet the Nation's defense needs (42 U.S.C. 2096-2097). 
Congress gave to AEC the authority to withdraw Federal lands for the 
exploration and development of a viable domestic uranium source under a 
variety of programs that were carried forward in the Atomic Energy Act 
of 1954. Around the same time, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 
issued Public Land Order (PLO) 459 that stated, ``Subject to valid 
existing rights and existing withdrawals, the public lands and the 
minerals reserved to the United States in the patented lands in the 
following areas in Colorado are hereby withdrawn from all forms of 
appropriation under the public-land laws, including the mining laws but 
not the mineral-leasing laws, and reserved for the use of the United 
States Atomic Energy Commission.'' The areas under consideration are 
located in western Colorado in Mesa, Montrose, and San Miguel counties. 
Subsequently, other PLOs increased or decreased the total acreage in 
withdrawn status.
    In addition, the Federal Government, through the Union Mines 
Development Corporation, acquired a substantial

[[Page 36098]]

number of patented and unpatented mining claims, milling, tunnel sites, 
and agricultural patents, until the aggregated acreage managed by AEC 
totaled approximately 25,000 acres.
    The Mineral Leasing Program, which was in operation from 
approximately 1949 to 1962, produced more than 1.2 million pounds of 
uranium and 6.8 million pounds of vanadium, and generated $5.9 million 
in royalties to the Federal Government. When the program ended in 1962, 
AEC directed the lessees to close the mines, but little was done to 
reclaim the mine sites.
    AEC initiated a second leasing program in 1974 under the Domestic 
Uranium Program regulations (10 CFR 760.1) that was called the Uranium 
Lease Management Program (ULMP). This program was designed to address 
the lack of production capacity of uranium--and vanadium--bearing ores 
for the U.S. Government defense needs, and emphasized the need for 
uranium in the expanding commercial nuclear energy market. The two main 
goals of the ULMP were to recover the resources that had been developed 
initially by AEC and to improve the prospects for continued mill 
operations, thereby encouraging further exploration and development on 
privately-held land. In preparation for the ULMP in 1972, AEC evaluated 
potential environmental and economic impacts related to the ULMP in the 
Environmental Statement: Leasing of AEC Controlled Uranium Bearing 
Lands. AEC and its successor agencies, the U.S. Energy Research and 
Development Administration and DOE, administered the ULMP. In 1984, DOE 
renewed the lease agreements for a second ten-year term.
    During the ULMP, DOE and BLM acknowledged that each agency had 
defined jurisdictional authority over the various activities that could 
be conducted on the lease tracts. DOE maintained jurisdiction and 
authority over all activities on withdrawn lands associated with 
uranium and vanadium mining, including exploration, development, 
extraction (mining), and transportation. BLM maintained jurisdiction 
and authority over all other surface uses. This acknowledgment of the 
agencies' jurisdiction continues today.
    In July 1995, DOE prepared a programmatic environmental assessment 
(PEA) to inform DOE's determination whether the leasing program should 
continue. DOE then issued a FONSI in August 1995, in which it 
determined to continue the ULP. DOE subsequently entered into 
negotiations with the previous lessees. Seven of the lessees informed 
DOE that they did not wish to continue with the program and began 
reclamation of their lease tracts. DOE then entered into 13 new lease 
agreements with the remaining lessees.
    In 2005, DOE initiated a review of its 1995 PEA, and began to 
prepare a new PEA to evaluate the continuation of the ULP. In the July 
2007 PEA, DOE examined three alternatives for the management of the ULP 
for the next ten years, including DOE's preferred ``Expanded Program 
Alternative,'' under which DOE would continue and expand the existing 
ULP. Under that alternative, DOE would extend the 13 existing leases 
for a ten-year period, and then expand the ULP to include the 
competitive offering of up to 25 additional lease tracts to the 
domestic uranium industry. In the July 2007 FONSI, DOE announced its 
decision to proceed with the Expanded Program Alternative. DOE 
determined that the Expanded Program Alternative would not constitute a 
major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human 
environment, within the meaning of NEPA; and, therefore, that 
preparation of an EIS was not required.
    After the issuance of the July 2007 PEA and FONSI, DOE took a 
series of site-specific agency actions to implement the ULP. These 
actions included: Entering into new lease agreements for 31 lease 
tracts after reconfiguring the expanded number of tracts from 38 to 31 
(currently, 29 tracts are actively held under lease, and the remaining 
two tracts are not leased), approval of exploration plans on some 
leases, and approval of reclamation-in-lieu-of-royalties (RILOR) plans 
on some leases (under which a lessee agreed to perform necessary 
reclamation services on its lease, and in return DOE agreed to reduce 
the amount of royalties that the lessee must pay to the U.S. 
Government). DOE reviewed each of the exploration plans and RILOR plans 
in accordance with DOE's NEPA regulations, and determined that each of 
the plans was categorically excluded from further environmental 
evaluation under categorical exclusions set forth in DOE's NEPA 
regulations. DOE has not received any mining plans from any of its ULP 
lessees; and no mining activities are currently being performed on any 
of the ULP leases.
    DOE believes that in light of the site-specific information that it 
has gathered as a result of the site-specific agency actions proposed 
and approved pursuant to the July 2007 PEA and FONSI, it is now 
appropriate to prepare a PEIS in order to analyze the reasonably 
foreseeable environmental impacts, including the site-specific impacts, 
of a range of alternatives for the management of the ULP for the 
remainder of the ten-year period that was covered by the July 2007 PEA. 
DOE's preparation of this PEIS is in accordance with DOE's NEPA 
regulation at 10 CFR 1021.300(b), which provides that DOE may prepare a 
NEPA document for any DOE action at any time in order to further the 
purposes of NEPA, and may do so ``to analyze the consequences of 
ongoing activities, support DOE planning, assess the need for 
mitigation, fully disclose the potential environmental consequences of 
DOE actions, or for any other reason.''
    DOE is separately preparing to enter into consultation with the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in compliance with Section 7 of the 
Endangered Species Act, concerning DOE's management of the ULP.
    The ULP lease tracts are located in the western portions of Mesa, 
Montrose, and San Miguel Counties, in western Colorado. Elevations of 
the mesas and valleys throughout this semiarid area vary from 5,500 
feet above sea level in the valleys to approximately 8,000 feet above 
sea level on top of the higher mesas. Except for the cities of Montrose 
and Grand Junction, which are each more than 50 miles from the nearest 
lease tract, the region is sparsely populated and has few towns.
    The lease tracts are located in four geographical areas referred to 
as the Gateway, Uravan, Paradox Valley, and Slick Rock lease tracts. 
The Gateway lease tracts are remotely located on the tops and side 
slopes of Outlaw and Calamity Mesas; surface runoff from these areas 
travels through Maverick and Calamity Creeks, which are tributaries of 
the Dolores River. The Uravan lease tracts in Montrose County are 
located on the tops and side slopes of Spring Creek, Atkinson, and Club 
Mesas, near the historical community of Uravan, which has only two 
remaining buildings. The Dolores River and its main tributary, the San 
Miguel River, flow in the valley bottoms below the lease tracts. The 
Paradox Valley lease tracts are in Montrose and San Miguel Counties in 
a broad valley flanked by the high plateaus of Monogram Mesa and Long 
Park. The Slick Rock lease tracts are located near the historical 
community of Slick Rock in San Miguel County. In this area the land 
surface is deeply incised by the Dolores River and its tributaries; the 
Dolores River Canyon in this area is approximately 500 feet wide at the 
bottom and is characterized by steep slopes and sheer cliffs.
    Land use on and around the ULP lease tracts include mining, oil and 
gas exploration and production, timber

[[Page 36099]]

harvesting, recreation, agriculture, and grazing. DOE and BLM 
administer the lands within the lease tract boundaries. Considerable 
mineral exploration and development has occurred historically in the 
lease tract areas. Mined minerals have included coal, oil and gas, sand 
and gravel, radium, uranium, and vanadium; uranium and vanadium mining, 
and oil and gas exploration, are the predominant mineral activities. 
Sections of the more active lease tracts, such as in Paradox Valley, 
have been substantially mined and are restricted from public access; 
other tracts remain open for other surface and subsurface uses. The 
public uses many of the unimproved roads around and near some of the 
lease tracts for recreational purposes, grazing, and general ranching.

Purpose and Need for Agency Action

    In light of the site-specific information that DOE has gathered as 
a result of the site-specific agency actions proposed and approved 
pursuant to the July 2007 ULP PEA/FONSI, it is now appropriate for DOE 
to prepare a PEIS in order to analyze the reasonably foreseeable 
environmental impacts, including the site-specific impacts, of the 
range of reasonable alternatives for the management of the ULP for the 
remainder of the ten-year period that was covered by the July 2007 PEA.
    The underlying purpose and need for agency action is that, in 
support of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Pub. L. 109-58), which 
emphasized the reestablishment of nuclear power (Sections 601 through 
657), DOE needs to determine the future course of the ULP, including 
whether to continue leasing some or all of DOE's withdrawn lands and 
government-owned patented claims (referred to as ``DOE-managed lands'') 
for the exploration and production of uranium and vanadium ores for the 
remainder of the ten-year period that was covered by the July 2007 PEA. 
The Domestic Uranium Program regulation (10 CFR 760.1) gives DOE the 
flexibility to continue leasing these DOE-managed lands via a 
competitive bidding process to achieve the highest returns for the 
government. A key element in this determination is the analysis of 
environmental impacts attributable to lease tract operations and 
associated activities. Therefore, DOE will prepare this PEIS to provide 
such information to decision-makers, as well as to the public.

Proposed Action

    DOE's proposed action is to decide whether to continue the ULP for 
the remainder of the ten-year period covered by the July 2007 PEA; and, 
if it decides to continue the ULP, to determine which alternative to 
adopt in order to manage the ULP during that period.

Alternatives

    As required by the CEQ and DOE NEPA implementing procedures, at 40 
CFR parts 1500-1508 and 10 CFR part 1021, respectively, DOE will 
analyze the range of reasonable alternatives for continuation of the 
ULP. In accordance with CEQ's NEPA implementing procedures at 40 CFR 
1508.25(b), DOE will also analyze the ``no action'' alternative. DOE 
proposes that the alternatives to be analyzed in the PEIS include the 
following:
    (1) DOE would terminate the leases for the ULP; lessees would be 
required to reclaim their operations on their respective leases; and, 
once final reclamation activities were completed, DOE would continue 
its management of the withdrawn lands, without leasing, in accordance 
with applicable requirements.
    (2) DOE would terminate the leases for the ULP; lessees would be 
required to reclaim their operations on their respective leases; and, 
once final reclamation activities were completed, all lands would be 
restored to the public domain with the approval of BLM and under BLM's 
administrative control, and DOE's leasing program would end.
    (3) DOE would continue the ULP as it existed before the issuance of 
the July 2007 PEA/FONSI; the 13 then-active leases would be continued 
for the ten-year period covered by the July 2007 PEA/FONSI, or for 
another reasonable period; and DOE would terminate the leases for the 
remaining leases tracts. Regarding the leases that would be terminated, 
DOE would follow the procedures proposed either in alternative (1) 
above, or in alternative (2) above. Regarding the 13 leases that would 
be continued, the lessees would be allowed to file plans to explore for 
and mine uranium and vanadium ore reserves on their respective tracts, 
and to engage in reclamation activities on those tracts. For those 13 
leases, DOE would analyze, among other things, the reasonably 
foreseeable environmental impacts, including the site-specific impacts, 
of leasing, exploration, mining activities (including any resumption of 
mining activities that were previously approved), transportation, and 
reclamation, as well as cumulative impacts resulting from the 
incremental impacts of those actions when added to other past, present, 
and reasonably foreseeable future actions. DOE would explore reasonable 
mitigation measures to avoid or minimize potential environmental 
impacts.
    (4) DOE would continue the ULP for the expanded number of leases in 
the July 2007 PEA/FONSI; the expanded number of leases would be 
continued for the ten-year period covered by the July 2007 PEA/FONSI, 
or for another reasonable period. For all of those ULP leases, the 
lessees would be allowed to file plans to explore for and mine uranium 
and vanadium ore reserves on their respective tracts, and to engage in 
reclamation activities on those tracts. DOE would analyze, among other 
things, the reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts, including the 
site-specific impacts, of leasing, exploration, mining activities 
(including any resumption of mining activities that were previously 
approved), transportation, and reclamation, as well as cumulative 
impacts resulting from the incremental impacts of those actions when 
added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future 
actions. DOE would explore reasonable mitigation measures to avoid or 
minimize potential environmental impacts.
    (5) DOE would continue the ULP exactly as it was approved in the 
July 2007 PEA/FONSI, and would continue to approve plans by lessees as 
it has done since the issuance of the July 2007 PEA/FONSI.

Alternative (5) would be the ``no action'' alternative in the PEIS.

Preliminary Identification of Environmental Issues

    DOE proposes to address the environmental issues listed below. This 
list is neither intended to be all-inclusive, nor a predetermined set 
of potential impacts. DOE invites comments on whether this is an 
appropriate list of issues that should be considered in the PEIS. The 
preliminary list of potentially affected resources or activities and 
their related environmental issues includes:
    Biological resources: including potential impacts to vegetation, 
wildlife, threatened or endangered species, migratory birds, and 
ecologically sensitive habitats;
    Water resources: potential impacts on surface water and ground 
water;
    Cultural and historic resources;
    Floodplains and wetlands: DOE will assess potential impacts of 
actions that may occur in a floodplain or wetland in accordance with 
DOE floodplain and wetland environmental review requirements (10 CFR 
part 1022). (Portions of three lease tracts are located within the 100-
year floodplain of the Dolores River.);

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    Socioeconomics: potential impacts to schools, housing, public 
services, and local revenues, including the creation of jobs;
    Transportation: including potential impacts on transportation 
corridors;
    Accidents and intentional destructive acts;
    Air quality: including potential impacts on regional air quality 
and climate change;
    Land use: potential impacts on mining, recreation, timber 
harvesting, agriculture, grazing, and soils;
    Environmental justice: potential for disproportionately high and 
adverse impacts on minority and low-income populations;
    Noise and light: potential disturbance impacts from construction, 
transportation of materials, and operations;
    Wilderness areas; Wild and scenic rivers: DOE will assess potential 
impacts on the Dolores River Canyon Wilderness Study Area from 
increased activity and mining on portions of three lease tracts, and 
potential impacts on the Dolores River and San Miguel River;
    Visual resources;
    Human health and safety: including potential impacts from public 
exposure to radioactive or hazardous materials, traffic accidents, land 
subsidence, and other potential hazards;
    Cumulative impacts: for each alternative DOE will assess potential 
effects that could result from the incremental impacts of the action 
when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future 
actions.

Public Scoping Process

    This NOI initiates the scoping process under NEPA, which will guide 
the development of the Draft PEIS. To ensure that all issues related to 
DOE's proposed action are addressed, DOE invites public comments on the 
scope of the PEIS. Interested government agencies, Native American 
tribes, private-sector organizations, and the general public are 
encouraged to submit comments or suggestions on the scope of the PEIS, 
including potential issues and environmental impacts that should be 
addressed and the alternatives that should be considered. The scoping 
period will end August 22, 2011. Comments should be submitted by that 
date to ensure consideration (see ADDRESSES above). DOE will consider 
comments e-mailed or postmarked after that date to the extent 
practicable.
    DOE will conduct public scoping meetings in the vicinity of the ULP 
lease tracts at dates, times, and locations to be announced in a 
separate Federal Register notice and in local news media at least 15 
days before the meetings. Oral comments will be heard during the formal 
portion of the scoping meetings. The public is also invited to learn 
more about the project at an informal session at each location. DOE 
requests that anyone who wishes to speak at the public scoping meetings 
should contact Ms. Laura Kilpatrick, by e-mail or postal mail (see 
ADDRESSES above).
    Those who do not arrange in advance to speak may register at the 
meeting (preferably at the beginning of the meeting) and would be given 
an opportunity to speak after previously scheduled speakers. Speakers 
will be given approximately five minutes to present their comments. 
Those speakers who want more than five minutes should indicate the 
length of time desired in their request. Depending on the number of 
speakers, DOE may need to limit all speakers to five minutes initially 
and provide additional opportunity as time permits. Individuals may 
also provide written materials in lieu of, or supplemental to, their 
presentations. DOE will give equal consideration to oral and written 
comments.
    DOE will consider public scoping comments in preparing the Draft 
PEIS. DOE will issue the Draft PEIS for public review and conduct 
public hearings. DOE will consider public comments on the Draft PEIS 
and respond as appropriate in the Final PEIS. No sooner than 30 days 
following completion of the Final PEIS, DOE will issue a Record of 
Decision regarding the proposed action.

    Issued in Washington, DC, this 15th day of June 2011.
David W. Geiser,
Director, Office of Legacy Management.
[FR Doc. 2011-15408 Filed 6-20-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 6450-01-P