Arizona Tribe & Enviro Groups Defend Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Ban Against Industry Lawsuit

In January, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a 20-year ban on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. But uranium prospector Gregory Yount has a lawsuit filed to reverse the ban saying the agency's 700-page environmental analysis was inadequate, and two industry organizations—the Nuclear Energy Institute and the National Mining Association—have since also filed suit.

But on Monday, Arizona’s Havasupai Tribe and a coalition of environmental groups filed legal papers to intervene in the lawsuit and defend the ban by the Department of the Interior.

Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon and surrounding area, and the push for new mining in the region has sparked outrage and protests among local populations and environmentalists, as well as water utilities in three states whose populations rely on water from the Colorado River. New mines threaten iconic lands and wildlife habitat and are likely to pollute or deplete aquifers, potentially bringing uranium levels in local springs to twice as high as EPA drinking standards.

26 New Mines, 700 Exploration Projects

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the agency’s review showed that without a ban, 26 new uranium mines and 700 uranium exploration projects would be developed, resulting in more than 1,300 acres of surface disturbance and the consumption of 316 million gallons of water. (With a ban, existing mining will continue but is projected to have about one-tenth the surface impacts and one-third the water usage over 20 years.)

Matthew Putesoy, Sr., Havasupai tribal vice chairman, said, “The Havasupai Tribe has long opposed mining on our aboriginal lands because of the threat uranium mining poses to our traditional uses, practices, sacred places, and to the plants, wildlife, air and water.”

The motion was filed by the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and National Parks Conservation Association.

"We intend to defend these lands from this ill-considered attack by the uranium industry,” said Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice staff attorney. "The life-giving waters and deer, elk, condors, and other wildlife found there deserve protection from the toxic pollution and industrialization threatened by large-scale uranium mining."

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