Nuclear Energy Group Sues Over Uranium Mining Ban in Arizona

The Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Mining Association said they sued the U.S. to reverse a ban on new uranium mining on federal land around the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The two organizations, representing mining and nuclear power companies, today asked a federal court in Arizona to reverse a U.S. Interior Department ban, announced Jan. 9, on new hard-rock mining claims on about 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of land, according to an e-mailed statement. The lawsuit couldn’t be independently confirmed from court records.

Richard Myers, vice president for policy development with the nuclear power group, said in the statement that the proposed land withdrawal was designed to protect against circumstances that no longer exist. The land involved isn’t within the Grand Canyon or the buffer zone protecting the national park, according to the statement.

“Contrary to the assertions by the administration, today’s environmental laws ensure that ore extraction and production at uranium mines have minimal environmental impact on the surrounding land, water and wildlife,” Myers said.

Arizona Strip

The uranium resources in the so-called Arizona Strip represent about 40 percent of U.S. reserves and some of the highest grade uranium located in the U.S., according to the group’s statement.

Adam Fetcher, a spokesman for the Interior Department, declined to comment on the suit.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said when he signed the 20-year ban on Jan. 9 that it was part of an effort to safeguard the $3.5 billion spent by visitors to the national park each year.

“Tourism, leisure are very much a part of job creation of the United States,” Salazar said at the time. “The jobs associated to the Grand Canyon are not jobs that can be exported anywhere, those are truly American jobs.”

The ban will prevent new uranium and other hard-rock mining near Grand Canyon National Park, which was visited by 4.5 million people in 2010. Previously approved mining and new projects on claims and sites with existing rights will be allowed, potentially leading to development of as many as 11 uranium mines, the Interior Department said last month.

The 20-year ban on new mining claims was based on an environmental impact study prepared by the Bureau of Land Management, which estimated that as many as 30 uranium mines would be developed without the ban, according to the Interior Department.

Large stretches of very remote desert land, including an area tourists pass through on their way to the popular North Rim, were put off limits.

The case is National Mining Association v. Salazar, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona.

(Adds Salazar’s earlier statement in seventh paragraph.)
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