Grand Canyon uranium mining ban remains

13 December 2017

A 20-year ban on the mining of uranium near the Grand Canyon has been upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. The court ruling effectively confirmed that the ban is lawful and the government has the power to impose it.

The US Department of the Interior decided in January 2012 to withdraw more than one million acres of federal land surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining. Although mining of a few existing claims will be permitted, the withdrawal effectively bans uranium exploration and mining within the region. Oil, gas or other non-hard rock energy resources are not affected by the withdrawal.

In February 2012, lawsuits were filed by plaintiffs including the National Mining Association (NMA), the Nuclear Energy Institute, American Exploration & Mining Association, the Arizona Utah Local Economic Coalition and exploration and mining company Quaterra Resources. The plaintiffs questioned the legal authority of then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to withdraw such a large tract of public land. They also alleged that Salazar did not comply with requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act in making the decision, and asserted that the decision to withdraw the land was "arbitrary and capricious".

The Arizona district court ruled in October 2014 that the US Department of the Interior acted within its rights to impose the ban. The plaintiffs launched an appeal to contest the court's decision.

The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco yesterday upheld the Arizona district court's ruling, meaning the ban will remain in place.

The three-judge panel concluded, "At its core, the 'merits question' in this case is whether the [Interior] 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 panel added, "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 decision making in the future."

The NMA said, "It is now time for the Congress and the administration, working with the impacted states, to re-evaluate whether the withdrawal was justified based on the scientific, technical and socio-economic facts."

In testimony yesterday before the House Natural Resources Committee, NMA General Counsel Katie Sweeney warned against "unwise and unwarranted mineral withdrawals" that ignore the vast sectors of the American economy that depend upon a reliable and secure supply chain of minerals and metals.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News