Leaders in the uranium mining industry are challenging a decision by the Interior Department that placed a 20-year mining ban on one million acres of public land next to the Grand Canyon.
Two groups – the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) and the National Mining Association – have submitted a new request to the Supreme Court, asking them to review the mining ban, enacted in 2012, that bans all uranium mining claims on the lands surrounding the national monument.
The ban has been challenged as recently as December of last year, when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban during a challenge by the industry.
The petitions by the AEMA and other industry groups challenge that former Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who was in the position when the ban was enacted, did not have constitutional authority to declare the ban. The state that the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 did not give the Interior Department and its secretary “unfettered power to make large-tract withdrawals.”
The December decision by the Supreme Court stated that “The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) reserves to Congress the power to take certain land management actions, such as making or revoking permanent withdrawals of large tracts from mineral extraction.”
The lands that the ban protects not only are right next to the national monument, but also include land that the Havasupai tribe relies on for water. The industry groups claim that uranium mining would not affect the local water supply.
“This is an attack on the Grand Canyon region, which is bad enough,” conservation groups said of the Supreme Court appeal in a statement.
“It’s also a long-shot attempt to kneecap the Interior Department’s authority to ever again protect large public landscapes from the damage and pollution hardrock mining can have on recreation, cultural resources, wildlife, clean air and water and the communities that rely on those values.”
Environmental groups believe that the ban should not be lifted until sufficient research is done to understand the risks and impacts of potential water contamination.
“Is it worth gambling the future of the Grand Canyon to allow private companies to line their pockets when the risks to groundwater are unknown,” Roger Clark, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust, says.
A 15-year study is currently in process by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to determine whether the one millions acres of public land surrounding the Grand Canyon would be affected by uranium mining. But scientists still don’t have enough information to determine whether the radioactive chemicals from the mining would do harm to local plants, animals, and water supplies.
Even so, with Trump’s proposed 2019 budget slashing important funding, all of the funds currently associated to the study through USGS’s Environmental Health Mission would be cut.
This is just the latest industry attempt to procure public lands near (or a part of) national monuments. In the last year Trump has already drastically reduced two Utah national monuments – Bears Ears’ National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – in order to open more land for drilling. Just this month documents were revealed that drilling and mining interests were, in fact, behind the shrinking of those monuments.