The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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) 253-8633

Settlement Repeals Uranium Exploration Near Grand Canyon, Requires Full Reviews of Subsequent Drilling Proposals


The Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra
Club Grand Canyon Chapter have reached a settlement agreement with the
United States Forest Service and VANE Minerals, a British mining firm,
over a legal challenge to uranium exploration approved last December
for national forest land immediately south - some within three miles -
of Grand Canyon National Park.

The suit held that
the Kaibab National Forest violated the National Environmental Policy
Act and Appeals Reform Act when it approved 39 exploratory drilling
holes using a "categorical exclusion" from detailed public and
environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The
settlement follows an April preliminary injunction and requires the
Forest Service and VANE Minerals to withdraw the drilling approval and
to undertake a full Environmental Impact Statement process prior to any
renewed effort to drill at the sites.

"Public lands
abutting Grand Canyon deserve better than the uranium industry's vision
of a radioactive industrial zone," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands
director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "This settlement
repeals an illegal exploration project and requires a full
environmental and public review of any new drilling proposed for those
sites. It's a clear victory for the Grand Canyon."

The 39 drilling sites' approval was the first of five similar uranium
exploration projects slated for national forest land immediately south
of Grand Canyon National Park. Recent spikes in the price of uranium
have caused mining companies to file thousands of new uranium claims,
conduct dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and move to open
several uranium mines on public lands both north and south of the Park.

Concerns about uranium development causing
surface- and ground-water contamination of Grand Canyon National Park
and the Colorado River have been expressed by Arizona Gov. Janet
Napolitano; the Los Angeles Water District; the Southern Nevada Water
Authority; the Arizona Game and Fish Department; the Navajo, Hopi,
Havasupai, Hualapai and Kaibab Paiute nations; and Coconino County.

"Uranium development poses a real and immediate threat to Grand Canyon
and the Colorado River," said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club's Grand
Canyon Chapter. "At stake is the drinking water for tens of millions of
Americans and the crown jewel of our national park system."

Heeding these concerns, Congressman Raul Grijalva in March introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act,
legislation that would prohibit new uranium exploration across 1
million acres of federal public lands in watersheds surrounding Grand
Canyon. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on
Natural Resources passed an emergency resolution requiring the
Secretary of Interior to establish the same protections for three years
across the same 1 million acres - which includes national forest lands
south of Grand Canyon slated for new exploration.

"This settlement is a significant step toward protecting Grand Canyon
and the Colorado River," said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust.
"Congress should follow the lead provided by Representative Nick Rahall
and Representative Raul Grijalva and pass the Grand Canyon Watersheds
Protection Act of 2008 and reform the 1872 mining law. Both are
critical to securing Grand Canyon's future."

1872 law established mining as the highest priority use of federal
public lands by allowing mining companies, including foreign firms such
as VANE Minerals, to mine federal lands without paying royalties, with
minimal environmental safeguards and at the expense of other land uses.
Attempts to reform the antiquated legislation so far have failed.

Attorneys Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity, Neil Levine
of Grand Canyon Trust and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action
Project argued the Grand Canyon uranium exploration suit and negotiated
the settlement agreement.

To view a copy of today's settlement agreement, click here.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

(520) 623-5252