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Information Network for Responsible Mining v. Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

July 25, 2019

Information Network for Responsible Mining, Earthworks, and Sheep Mountain Alliance, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, Defendant-Appellee.

          City and County of Denver District Court No. 17CV33475 Honorable Michael A. Martinez, Judge

          Travis Stills, Durango, Colorado; Roger Flynn, Jeffrey C. Parsons, Lyons, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants

          Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Charles J. Kooyman, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee

          OPINION

          TOW JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Information Network for Responsible Mining, Earthworks, and Sheep Mountain Alliance (collectively, the objectors) appeal the district court's judgment, affirming the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board (the Board) order granting the request of Piñon Ridge Mining, LLC for approval of a second period of temporary cessation.[1] We reverse.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 In November 1999, Piñon Ridge Mining was issued a permit for a uranium mining operation known as the Van 4 Shaft (the site), releasing the company's predecessor from its permit. The site last produced ore in 1989. In March 2014, the Division of Reclamation, Mining, and Safety (the Division) approved an initial period of temporary cessation for the site, with an effective date of June 13, 2012.

         ¶ 3 In May 2017, the Division received a request for approval of a second period of temporary cessation for the site. The objectors filed objections to this request. The Board held a hearing on the matter. During the hearing, a representative of Piñon Ridge Mining testified that minerals had not been extracted since it had taken over the site because the depressed market price of uranium made production unprofitable. The representative also testified that the operator had explored one other avenue for extraction.

         ¶ 4 The Board ultimately granted the request for approval of a second period of temporary cessation. The district court affirmed the Board's order. The objectors now appeal the Board's decision.

         II. Analysis

         ¶ 5 The objectors assert that the district court erred in affirming the Board's order, which, the objectors argue, ignored the plain language of the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Act (MLRA) when approving a second period of temporary cessation. We agree.

         A. Standard of Review

         ¶ 6 The Board is a state agency governed by the State Administrative Procedure Act, sections 24-4-101 to -108, C.R.S. 2018. In reviewing the Board's actions, we stand in the same position as the district court. See Haney v. Colo. Dep't of Revenue, 2015 COA 125, ¶ 14. We must set aside an agency action that is

(I) Arbitrary or capricious;
(II) A denial of statutory right;
(III) Contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity;
(IV) In excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, purposes, or limitations;
(V) Not in accord with the procedures or procedural limitations of this article 4 or as otherwise ...

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