Lawsuit Aims to Halt Uranium Mine Near Grand Canyon National Park

A group has gone to court to halt the development of a uranium mine within 10 miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club, the lawsuit claims the U.S. Bureau of Land Management failed to update environmental reviews and mining plans before approving the project.

The conservation groups hope to prevent the Denison Mines Corporation from mining at the “Arizona 1” mine. The mine was partially constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s but was closed due to market conditions in 1992 without producing any uranium ore, according to the groups, who add that the BLM failed to respond to a September legal notice from conservation groups urging the agency to correct course in order to avoid the litigation. The mine is within the same area that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed off-limits to new mining claims and operations in an order issued in July of this year.

The lawsuit cites violations of National Environmental Policy Act provisions that require the land-management agency to consider new information regarding the hydrology, spring ecology, and biodiversity of the area in order to accurately evaluate the impacts of the mine. An update to an outdated 1988 environmental assessment, as well as a more thorough analysis, is warranted given new information, circumstances, and public controversy about renewed uranium mining near Grand Canyon, the groups contend.

The legal action also cites violations of the Endangered Species Act in the federal government’s failure to ensure that new mining will not jeopardize threatened and endangered species or their critical habitat — including Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail, razorback sucker, southwestern willow flycatcher, and Mexican spotted owl.

“The Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to redo outdated environmental reviews is as illegal as it is unethical,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It should be eager to protect the Grand Canyon and its endangered species; instead, it has chosen to shirk environmental review on behalf of the uranium industry.”

The lawsuit also cites violations of mining laws and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act over the agency’s failure to require validity exams for the mine’s claims and a new plan of operations for the mine; the old plan expired with the mine’s 1992 closure. The Interior Department’s July 2009 1-million-acre land segregation order, now in force, and its proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal prohibit new mining claims and the exploration and mining of existing claims for which valid existing rights have not been established. Although the Arizona 1 mine falls within the segregation boundary, valid rights have not been established for the mine’s claims.

“Arizona 1’s original mine owners went bankrupt and thus never established an economically viable uranium deposit required to establish a valid and existing right,” said Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. “It’s time for the BLM to serve the public interest by complying with the law.”

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Comments

Why is it that the big 3 (oil,timber and mining) industries insist on defiling our National Parks and Wilderness areas? I find such greed disgusting and those that allow it should be drawn and quartered.

Why is it that the areas surrounding national parks and wilderness areas are to be zoned the exact same as the areas they surround? Why not just enlarge the parks and wildernesses? Since ten miles out is not far enough, please tell me at what point you reach nil.

Again... I will ask how far out from the boundaries of national parks and wildernesses should public domain extend? And if such is the case, why not make that part of the park and/or wilderness, and get it over with? Or does it start over again with THAT being the new boundary and you can't do anything to harm the park another 10 or 20 or 30 miles out. At what point does it all stop? I would like a reality answer to this: not some extreme tree-hugger reply, ok?

Anonymous, you ask a good question, one that's come up before. The same question can be asked of energy development and national parks in Utah. Of course, at Yellowstone National Park clear-cutting came right up to the western border; you can see it from outer space, I'm told. Why was that allowed and now folks think a uranium mine 10 miles from the Grand Canyon is too close?

I have yet to see an easy answer to your question, though. I think it's one society has to agree on. And, I suppose, that's why there are lawsuits of this type.

There are extensive clear-cut swaths of forest near Olympic NP on private and NF lands. There are many towns right next or really close to the border of national parks with the kind of development that wouldn't be allowed within the parks themselves. Think Tusayan or the area outside the Niqually entrance to Mt Rainier NP.

There's a campground with full hookups in Pinnacles NM. It's really more the kind of KOA-style campground with lots of grass. It used to be just outside the border until the NPS bought them out and incorporated the campground into the park boundaries.

However - if a uranium mine has the potential to affect areas within Grand Canyon NP, then the consequences have to be considered.

Anon #2 & 3--

The BLM land around Grand Canyone NP is not being managed as if it were a National Park.

There's a land-management concept of buffer zones. Some uses that aren't allowed in one area are very appropriate in adjacent areas, as their effects don't extend very far. Mountain biking, various levels of grazing, etc., don't impact nearby National Park areas and are allowed right up to the boundary of the NPS land. Large industrial areas such as the Eagle Mountain dump and uranium mines and oil & gas drilling do have impacts that extend substantial distances, so they are not appropriate on Federal lands very close to National Park areas. Activities such as clearcutting and heavy hunting have effects that extend a lesser distance; a straightforward reading of the relevant federal law probably should preclude them ON FEDERAL LANDS immediately adjacent to Yellowstone, and allow them some moderate distance away.

Note that we're not talking about restrictions on what private landowners should be allowed to do on their private lands: the proposed uranium mine is on BLM land, as are the canyons to be filled by the Eagle Mountain dump.

Yes I'm a tree-hugger, but I give the same answer to federal lands around military training areas, airports, etc. Buffers are required, because land-use activities have impacts that extend distances.

To Kurt, y_p_w, and tomp, the three who responded to my questions about the boundaries, I thank you for your professional, concise, and intelligent replies. Those were needed here in this particular comments section. All the responses make sense to both sides. I do not see why there must be an instant cutdown of something as soon as an article is published.

To expand a bit on the above comments by tomp and Kurt:

The question of whether there should be "buffers" on public lands owned by other agencies adjacent to parks has always been fertile ground for debate. As tomp notes, one factor in evaluating an activity on public lands adjoining parks should be the extent of the impacts of the activity on the park.

In the case of uranium mining near Grand Canyon, one of the concerns raised has been possible effects of the mining activity on water quality in the Colorado River, and on the underground water resources in the area. Water is a scarce and increasingly valuable resource in the Southwest. If mining on the BLM land near the park runs the risk of compromising the water in the park, that's an issue which needs serious consideration, and the water in the Colorado River is a critical resource for a much larger area than just Grand Canyon NP.

Kurt, for an even more dramatic view of park boundaries (Olympic) visible from space:
http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=9681

I'd think the potential for contamination via blowing dust from the ore would be significant and expensive to mitigate with water in such short supply on the South Rim.