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Supreme Court Asked To Overturn Uranium Mining Ban Near Grand Canyon

Spring snowstorm near Yaki Point In Grand Canyon National Park/Rebecca Latson

Dark clouds figuratively swirled over Grand Canyon National Park on Monday after mining interests asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ban on new uranium mining claims near the national park/Rebecca Latson file

Three months after an appellate court denied their request to overturn a ban on new uranium mining claims on lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park, mining interests have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, a move described as "a long-shot attempt to kneecap the Interior Department’s authority" to protect large expanses of public lands.

At issue are more than 1 million acres surrounding the national park that are closed to new uranium mining claims. Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009 placed a temporary moratorium on new mining claims on the landscape until threats to the canyon could be analyzed. Two years later, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommended the "full proposed withdrawal of approximately 1 million acres of BLM and Forest Service lands located near the national park from mining claim location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights."

Secretary Salazar approved that move in January 2012.

In unanimously refusing last December to overturn the ban, the three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who heard the matter said Secretary Salazar was wise to take a careful approach to opening the lands to more uranium mining.

"At its core, the merits questioned in this case is whether the Secretary was allowed to adopt a cautious approach in the face of some risk, difficult to quantify based on current knowledge, to what he called 'America’s greatest national wonder,'" the three judges wrote. ”Appellants raise a myriad of challenges, but in the end identify no legal principle invalidating the Secretary’s risk-averse approach. As Interior concluded, withdrawal of the area from new mining claims for a limited period will permit more careful, longer-term study of the uncertain effects of uranium mining in the area and better-informed decisionmaking in the future."

Approaching the Supreme Court on Monday with hopes the justices would overturn the appellate ruling were the American Exploration and Mining Association and the National Mining Association.

The Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association intervened in the lawsuit in 2013 to defend Interior’s decision to protect Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks, wildlife, and vistas from new toxic uranium-mining pollution. The tribe and conservation groups are represented by the public-interest law firms Earthjustice and Western Mining Action Project.

The mining industry’s petitions allege that the Interior secretary’s authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to protect areas larger than 5,000 acres from mining is unconstitutional. 

“This is an attack on the Grand Canyon region, which is bad enough,” said Ted Zukoski, an Earthjustice attorney representing the Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups. “It’s also a long-shot attempt to kneecap the Interior Department’s authority to ever again protect large public landscapes from the damage and pollution hardrock mining can have on recreation, cultural resources, wildlife, clean air and water, and the communities that rely on those values.”

Amber Reimondo, energy program director for the Grand Canyon Trust said, “We doubt the Supreme Court will take the case, but if it does, we look forward to defending it alongside the Interior Department, which touted its defense in the Ninth Circuit as a victory in Trump’s first year in office.”

At the National Parks Conservation Association, Kevin Dahl said, “Secretary Zinke knows that mineral withdrawals are a good tool to be used for his own backyard in Montana. We look forward to his support of a mineral withdrawal meant to protect the Grand Canyon, an iconic American treasure.”

The lands in question are located in three parcels, two parcels north of the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM Arizona Strip lands and the North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest, and one south of the Grand Canyon on the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest.

The appellate court's ruling came not long after U.S. Forest Service officials, in response to a request by President Trump that they review regulations that “potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources," pointed to ending the 20-year moratorium.

The Supreme Court will review the petitions after the Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups have an opportunity to respond. The court could take the case for further review or reject the petitions and let the Ninth Circuit decision stand. The court denies more than 90 percent of the petitions it receives, according to Earthjustice.

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There are so many reasons why this is such a bad idea. It is such a shame that this needs to be relitigated. It is pretty obvious that they will continue to appeal until they get a court stacked in their favor.

Agree Rick B. terrible idea. I once was having lunch with noted environmental leader, he was discussing the litigation efforts of environmental groups comenting on the fact that even in winning a lawsuit, it seems all that is accoplished is that something has been saved for the next development proposal.

Two issues here.  Should mining be allowed and does Interior have the power to ban it.  I don't have enough information to make a conclusion about the first - though I have seen no hard evidence against it, but it would appear the Property Clause gives the Feds the full right to determine how the Federal Land can and cannot be used.  


A few images to help understand resistance to this effort.


Images of a current mine:


Images of how uranium has been extracted, and the effects on the local aquifers.


Data and images of residual effects of abandoned uranium mines.

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