Banning Uranium Mining Near the Grand Canyon

Uranium mines have polluted the Grand Canyon—an international icon. The government issued a 20-year ban on new mining claims to protect the Canyon’s watershed, communities, and wildlife. Earthjustice is defending this ban from industry challenges.

Case Overview

The mining industry staked thousands of claims around the Grand Canyon when the uranium market boomed in 2007–2008. Uncertain of the impacts this huge increase in mining would have on the Canyon’s complex ecosystem, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009 put a temporary halt to mining claims on a million-acre area around Grand Canyon National Park while he studied a longer-term ban. In 2012, with that study complete, he banned the staking of new mining claims on the land for 20 years. Secretary Salazar’s decision protects valid mining claims that preceded the ban, so a small amount of new mining may occur.

Industry quickly bit back by filing multiple lawsuits to overturn the ban. Earthjustice intervened to defend the Grand Canyon—an international icon—and all of its wildlife and water resources from destruction. Earthjustice is also working on behalf of the Havasupai Tribe to protect those communities that have lived in the Grand Canyon for millennia.

After five industry suits were filed in 2012, one was withdrawn and the remaining four were consolidated into a single suit. In March 2013, a U.S. District Judge in Arizona denied the mining industry’s sweeping claim that the Interior Department had no power to ban new mining claims on parcels of land larger than 5,000 acres—an argument that could have hobbled efforts to protect large areas of national forests and public lands across the West. Two months later, the same judge denied the industry’s request that he reconsider his decision.

Despite these two victories, the lawsuits are not over. Industry is alleging that the government failed to consider economic impacts of the withdrawal, and that uranium mining is so safe it can’t harm the environment. Earthjustice is gearing up to respond to industry’s arguments.

A uranium mine at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
A uranium mine at the edge of the Grand Canyon. (Photo courtesy of Ecoflight)

Case Updates

December 7, 2022 Press Release

Uranium Mine Gears Up Near Grand Canyon National Park

Senate must pass permanent Grand Canyon mining ban before 117th Congress ends

Grand Canyon and the Colorado River
March 12, 2018 Press Release

Uranium Mining Industry Seeks Supreme Court Review to Overturn Mining Ban that Protects Grand Canyon Region

Industry groups seek to invalidate Federal Land Policy Management Act

December 12, 2017 Press Release

House Hearing Attacks Grand Canyon Uranium Ban

20-year moratorium, upheld by 9th Circuit Court today, protects Tribes, water, wildlife, tourism