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After five industry suits were filed in 2012, one was withdrawn and the remaining four were consolidated into a single suit.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

Landscape with sparse trees and some water.
August 8, 2023 Update

New National Monument Protects Grand Canyon Region from Uranium Mining

Heeding calls from tribal leaders, President Biden designated nearly a million acres as Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni - Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

An aerial photo of a small mountain in the desert covered with short trees.
August 8, 2023 Press Release

President Biden to Designate Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument

Statement from Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley

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