Cyanide ban heads to Supreme Court |

Cyanide ban heads to Supreme Court

SUMMIT COUNTY ” The Colorado Mining Association has continued to challenge local mining laws by asking the Colorado Supreme Court to set aside a county ban on cyanide heap-leach mining.

The ban was adopted by the county as part of a comprehensive set of mining regulations several years ago and has been the subject of a see-saw court battle. A District Court judge initially voided the regulations, but that decision was subsequently overturned by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Several other counties in the state have enacted similar rules, and the Summit County court battle is being watched as a a potentially precedent-setting case.

The appeal to the Supreme Court is based on the need to maintain uniform state laws to regulate the mining industry, according to Mining Association president Stuart Sanderson. A patchwork quilt of county regulations could result in less effective protection, Sanderson said.

“I wouldn’t expect to hear anything from the Supreme Court for a few months,” Sanderson said.

Summit County’s regulations effectively bars cyanide heap-leach mining, which entails drizzling ore with a diluted cyanide solution to profitably extract gold from low-grade ore.

According to Sanderson, modern technology and best management practices enables the industry to safely use cyanide extraction. But critics say the practice has resulted in harmful releases to the environment in nearly every case. The Supreme Court appeal by the mining industry was expected, said Summit County attorney Jeff Huntley, who expressed disappointment about the state’s support of the Mining Association in this case.

“It’s more of the same, I guess,” said Huntley, referring to the fact that the state took a similar position ” and was shot down ” at the appeals court level.

They’re trying to limit local control in any area where there is state regulation,” Huntley said.

What’s somewhat puzzling is that state law already gives “express recognition of local authority over mining,” Huntley said.

According to the Mining Association, that authority is limited to the land-use aspects of mining.

“Under the Summit County prohibition, no mining operation using specified practices (cyanide heap-leach mining) would be authorized, even if the operator were to demonstrate full compliance with applicable laws and regulations,” Sanderson said.

The Association has continually characterized the Summit County ban as an unreasonable impediment to the responsible development of Colorado’s mineral resources.

For the county and the coalition of environmental groups on the other side of court, it’s a quality of life issue and question of local control.

Running the risk of a toxic cyanide spill in Summit Country, where clean mountain streams are a key part of the recreation economy, is simply unacceptable, said attorney Jeff Parsons, who does legal work for groups like the Alliance for Responsible Mining.

“It’s disappointing that the state is fighting for the evisceration of local control,” Parsons said.

Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at

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