COLORADO — Uranium mining in Colorado has surfaced as the next hot topic in America’s great energy debate.

Sunday's New York Times outlined a rift between locals in southwest Colorado who are thirsty for jobs and those who flatly oppose the nuclear industry. Southwest Colorado has been hit hard by the economic slowdown. Even before the slowdown, the region wasn’t exactly thriving. While the ski town of Telluride thrives on tourist dollars, other towns in the region are struggling mightily. Enter the proposed Piñon Ridge uranium mill, which according to the Times report is now just a month away from approval.

Supporters of the proposed mill are citing the possibility of new jobs, while opponents cite health concerns as reasons to oppose the idea. Uranium ore mines would be in hot demand if America decides to build nuclear power plants for the first time in decades, something that President Obama has not shied away from. But of course there are the obvious concerns whenever the issue of nuclear power comes up.

The article quotes one local uranium mining supporter as saying, “Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms,” and quotes another local named Craig Pirazzi as saying, “Our opposition to this proposal is based on the performance of historic uranium mining, because that’s all we have to go on, and that record is not good.” And there, in a nutshell, is your debate. Sound familiar?

The "health concerns vs. the economic concerns" debate is the crux of every modern-day energy tussle in this country. On a macro level, denial of climate change often comes down to the fundamental arguments that America and much of the world simply can’t afford to transition immediately off of greenhouse gas-producing energy sources. The flip side to that argument is made by those who argue that not transitioning to more renewables is something we can’t afford not to do. If you take into account health concerns, the greenhouse gas energy industry debate is framed once again.

On the micro level, the jobs vs. health debate is being fought in localities throughout the country. Hydraulic fracturing is endorsed by many in economically depressed parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Colorado and Wyoming because of the jobs and mineral severance revenues that the practice produces. Of course, there is the issue of toxic chemicals making their way into drinking water supplies. And with coal, toxic coal ash continues to be a concern for those living in the shadow of power plants throughout the country. The other side of that coin is there is an obvious economic benefit to having affordable electricity and jobs from the coal industry.

Now, the flavor of the month is uranium and the venue of the month is Colorado. But take away the name of the state and take away uranium and this debate is the same one that is happening everywhere. It will be interesting to see how the debate unfolds in Colorado. The jobs vs. health concerns debate is as fundamental as it gets in America. Both sides have legit arguments, but usually only one side wins.

Uranium mining part of the great energy debate
Colorado's debate over uranium mines isn't that different from other energy debates around the nation.