The 20-year ban on uranium mining and exploration and development near Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona can be challenged.
A U.S. District Court judge has ruled Arizona’s Mojave County, mining associations, mining companies, and a prospector have the legal standing to challenge U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s 20-year ban on new mining claims on one million acres of public lands buffering the Grand Canyon National Park.
The lands withdrawn included two parcels north of the Grand Canyon National Park on Bureau of Land Management Arizona Strip lands and the North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest, and one parcel south of the Grand Canyon on the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest.
The withdrawal did not impact disposition or mining of lands that already fell under mineral leasing, geothermal leasing, mineral materials or public lands laws. It did not impact more than 3,000 mining claims already staked in the area. The removal also banned construction of additional roads and more power lines to support the four existing uranium mines within the withdrawal area.
The National Mining Association (NMA) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona in February 2012, asking the court “to immediately vacate the Secretary’s withdrawal and enjoin defendants from withdrawing any lands under the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal.” The Northwest Mining Association (NWMA) joined in on the complaint, along with uranium explorer Quaterra Alaska. Prospector Gregory Young was the lead plaintiff in the complaint.
In his decisions, U.S. District Court Judge David G. Campbell ruled that National Mining Association, the National Energy Institute and the Arizona Utah Local Economic Coalition all have the legal standing to challenge Salazar’s uranium mining ban under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
Campbell also ruled that the NMA, the NEI, the NWMA, Yount, and Quaterra Resources all have legal standing to challenge the land withdrawal with respect to FLPMA and non-NEPA claims.
The plaintiffs filed claims under several federal laws including FLPMA, NEPA, the National Forest Management Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
The coalition claimed that “the defendants failed to coordinate with its members to avoid conflicts with local plans, defendants failed to follow proper FLPMA and NEPA procedures, the withdrawal decision ignored scientific data, and the decision will cost Mohave County and other members ‘tens of millions of dollars in revenue and jobs, inhibiting their current efforts at economic recovery.’”
The coalition also asserted that the withdrawal “will lead to the use of coal-fired power plants or other sources of energy that are more harmful to Mohave County’s air and water quality than nuclear energy, and will reduce Mohave County’s available funds to pay its roads…and protect desert tortoise habitat.”
The group argued Mohave County cannot adequately plan for future mining development because the BLM has broad discretion not to grant access across federal lands to state-owned lands where mining could still take place.