Lawsuit Challenges Uranium Mine That Threatens Water and Wildlife of the Grand Canyon

For Immediate Release

Conservation Groups
Contact: 

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 999-5790

Lawsuit Challenges Uranium Mine That Threatens Water and Wildlife of the Grand Canyon

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Today the Center
for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and Sierra Club
filed suit in
an Arizona federal court challenging the Bureau of Land Management's
approval of the restart of a defunct uranium mine just north of
Grand Canyon National Park.

The conservation groups are suing over
the Bureau's failure to update 1980s-era environmental reviews and
mining plans prior to allowing Denison Mines Corporation to begin
mining at the "Arizona 1" mine. The mine was partially constructed
in the late 1980s and early 1990s but was closed due to market
conditions in 1992 without producing any uranium ore. The Bureau of
Land Management did not respond to a September legal notice from
conservation groups urging the agency to correct course in order to
avoid today's litigation. The mine is within the same area that
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed off-limits to new mining
claims and operations in an order issued in July of this year.

Today's suit cites violations of National
Environmental Policy Act provisions that require the land-management
agency to consider new information regarding the hydrology, spring
ecology, and biodiversity of the area in order to accurately
evaluate the impacts of the mine. An update to an outdated 1988
environmental assessment, as well as a more thorough analysis, is
warranted given new information, circumstances, and public
controversy about renewed uranium mining near Grand Canyon. The suit
also cites violations of the Endangered Species Act in the federal
government's failure to ensure that new mining will not jeopardize
threatened and endangered species or their critical habitat -
including Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail, razorback
sucker, southwestern willow flycatcher, and Mexican spotted
owl.  

"The Bureau of Land Management's refusal
to redo outdated environmental reviews is as illegal as it is
unethical," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at
the Center for Biological Diversity. "It should be eager to protect
the Grand Canyon and its endangered species; instead, it has chosen
to shirk environmental review on behalf of the uranium
industry."

The suit also cites violations of mining
laws and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act over the
agency's failure to require validity exams for the mine's claims and
a new plan of operations for the mine; the old plan expired with the
mine's 1992 closure. The Interior Department's July 2009
one-million-acre land segregation
order, now in force, and its proposed 20-year mineral withdrawal prohibit new mining claims and the exploration and mining of
existing claims for which valid existing rights have not been
established. Although the Arizona 1 mine falls within the
segregation boundary, valid rights have not been established for the
mine's claims.

"Arizona 1's original mine owners went
bankrupt and thus never established an economically viable uranium
deposit required to establish a valid and existing right," noted
Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. "It's time for the BLM to
serve the public interest by complying with the law."

Spikes in uranium prices have caused
thousands of new uranium claims, dozens of proposed exploration
drilling projects, and proposals to reopen old uranium mines
adjacent to Grand Canyon. Renewed uranium development threatens to
degrade wildlife habitat and industrialize now-wild and iconic
landscapes bordering the park; it also threatens to deplete and
contaminate aquifers that discharge into Grand Canyon National Park
and the Colorado River. The Park Service warns against drinking from several creeks in the Canyon exhibiting elevated
uranium levels in the wake of past uranium mining. 

"The Grand Canyon, other public lands,
and native peoples are still suffering from the impacts of past
uranium mining activities," said Sandy Bahr, chapter director of the
Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "We need to ensure that we do
not repeat that history and allow harm to one of our nation's
treasures or to the millions of people who enjoy the lands and rely
on the water."

Proposed uranium development has provoked
litigation,
public protests, and
statements of concern and opposition from scientists; city
officials; county officials, including Coconino County; former
Governor Janet Napolitano; state representatives; the Navajo Nation,
and the Kaibab Paiute, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes; the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; and the Southern
Nevada Water Authority, among others. Statewide polling conducted by
Public Opinion Strategies shows overwhelming public support for
withdrawing from mineral entry the lands near Grand Canyon;
Arizonans support protecting the Grand Canyon area from uranium
mining by a two-to-one margin. 

Attorneys representing the plaintiff
groups in today's litigation are Amy Atwood of the Center for
Biological Diversity, Neil Levine of Grand Canyon Trust, and Roger
Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project.

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