Dismay over Grand Canyon uranium ruling

03 October 2014

A legal ruling upholding a 20-year withdrawal of lands near the Grand Canyon from uranium mining ignores evidence on environmental risks and questions the legitimacy of the environmental impact statement process, according to the USA's National Mining Association (NMA).

Judge David Campbell of the Arizona district court ruled earlier this week that the US Department of the Interior acted within its rights when it decided to withdraw more than one million acres of federal land surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining in January 2012. 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.

The court decision addressed lawsuits filed in February 2012 by plaintiffs including the NMA, the US Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), 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".

NMA's senior vice president for communications Nancy Gravatt told World Nuclear News that the organization was disappointed at Campbell's ruling, especially in light of evidence showing that risks from mining were lower than environmentalists alleged. Speaking of the judgment, she said: "It raises question to the legitimacy of the process for the mining industry of going through the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) if, as was the case here, the assessment showing insignificant risk is basically cast aside in the agency's decision making. The decision also underscores the need for Congress to place limits on the Department of Interior's ability to undertake large scale withdrawals of public lands."

According to the final EIS prepared by the US Bureau of Land Management in 2011, up to 11 uranium mines, four of which are currently approved, could still be developed in the withdrawal area over the next 20 years based on valid pre-existing rights. Without the withdrawal, it estimated that up to 30 uranium mines could operate in the area over that period, with up to six in operation at any one time.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News