In an attempt to open public lands around Grand Canyon National Park to dangerous new uranium mining, the National Mining Association today filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Interior Department’s recent enactment of a 20-year ban on new uranium mining development across one million acres. In response, the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice and Western Mining Action Project, announced plans to intervene on the side of the government to defend the Grand Canyon.
“Uranium mining threatens the air, life-giving water and wildlife of the Grand Canyon area,” said Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice staff attorney who will be representing the groups in the lawsuit. “We’ll be there in court to help defend the reasonable protections that limit that damage.”
The Interior Department ban approved in January prohibits new mining claims and mine development on existing claims without valid permits. The National Mining Association’s lawsuit attacks the department’s authority to withdraw more than eight square miles from damaging mining activities, no matter the threat to public lands, waters and wildlife. In addition, the industry alleges that the Interior Department’s exhaustive, 700-page evaluation of environmental impacts, which took more than two years to prepare, was inadequate.
“Grand Canyon National Park is an international icon, a biodiversity hotspot and an economic engine for the Southwest. The decision to protect it from more uranium mining pollution was the right one, and one that we’ll defend,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon and surrounding area. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation and proposed legislation. Scientists, tribal and local governments, and businesses have all voiced support for the new protections because dozens of new mines threaten to industrialize iconic and regionally sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers.
“The Sierra Club has a 100-plus year history of acting to protect the Grand Canyon and its watershed,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director of Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter. “We will continue to work to ensure that these public lands are protected and that uranium mines are not allowed to contaminate the groundwater and threaten the watershed.”
Over the past few years, nearly 400,000 people from 90 countries wrote to the Department of the Interior urging it to ban new uranium mining around the canyon after a uranium boom threatened to bring a new wave of destructive mining threatening recreation, tourism, wildlife habitat and waters in Grand Canyon National Park.
"The lawsuit further demonstrates that the mining industry has little regard for the rule of law or respect for local, tribal, economic, and public interest in protecting the Grand Canyon," said Grand Canyon Trust program director Roger Clark.