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 An update to an outdated 1988 environmental assessment, as well as a more thorough analysis, is warranted given new information, circumstances, and public controversy about renewed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“The Bureau of Land Management’s refusal to redo outdated environmental reviews is as illegal as it is unethical,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity.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.”