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Court Rejects Challenge to Ban on Uranium Mining in Grand Canyon

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marking a major victory for efforts to protect the iconic Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River, a U.S. district court judge last week upheld the Obama administration’s moratorium on new mining claims on a million acres surrounding the Canyon.

The moratorium, enacted in January 2012 by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, closed off more than 1 million acres of public lands to new mining claims for a 20-year period in order to protect the Grand Canyon watershed from the environmental risks of uranium mining. The watershed is the source of drinking water for millions of Americans in the Southwest. Between 2003 and 2009, uranium mining interests had staked hundreds of claims inside the million-acre area, any one of which could have been developed into a mine. Claims properly staked in the area prior to Salazar’s ruling remain valid. However, as a result of the ruling, prospective miners now face tougher requirements to prove the validity of their existing claims before they can break ground and cannot stake new claims.

The uranium mining industry challenged the moratorium in court last year, arguing that a provision in the law used to enact it was unconstitutional, invalidating the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to withdraw the lands. In last week’s decision, U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell rejected the miners’ argument, ruling that the problematic provision of the law could be severed from the rest of the statute, leaving intact the secretary’s withdrawal authority.

EWG has long worked to protect the Grand Canyon from destructive uranium mining, which has caused serious environmental damage and poses threats to national parks, rivers and public health throughout the West. The 20-year moratorium enacted in 2012 and upheld in court last week is a key step toward ensuring that the Grand Canyon and its watershed are permanently protected from new uranium mining activity.  

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