(CN) – Uranium-mining advocates cannot challenge a federal rule that preserves more than a million of acres of public land near the Grand Canyon, a federal judge ruled.
As secretary of the Interior last year, Ken Salazar approved last year a huge 20-year land withdrawal in northwestern Arizona to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River watershed from the negative effects of uranium mining.
Groups like the National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute balked, and the District of Arizona consolidated four lawsuits against the move last summer.
Among several issues in the case, the mining advocates have challenged the constitutionality of portion of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) of 1976 that allows the secretary to withdraw land from new mining claims. The defendants claim that the provision allowing Congress to repeal a withdrawal by concurrent resolution is unconstitutional, and therefore Interior’s power to withdraw land must be as well.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell didn’t buy it. In a March 20 order, he agreed that the legislative veto portion of the FLPMA is indeed unconstitutional, but found no interference with the agency’s withdrawal power.
“Plaintiffs repeatedly emphasize that the FLPMA sought to reign in executive authority over public lands and to place limits and statutory protections around executive withdrawal authority,” Campbell wrote. “That certainly is correct. But the question to be decided in this case is not whether Congress sought to reign in executive authority, but whether there is ‘strong evidence’ that Congress would have chosen to give the executive no large-tract withdrawal authority under § 204(c) if it was unable to limit that authority with a legislative veto. The recommendations of the commission do not provide that strong evidence. Significantly, the commission did not recommended a legislative veto. Nor did it suggest that Congress reserve large-tract withdrawal authority to itself.”
Campbell granted summary judgement to the government on the issue, finding that the offending portion of the act was easily severable from the part that gives Interior the power to withdraw land.
This does not end the case, however. In a January ruling, Judge Campbell refused to dismiss claims by the mining advocates that the government had failed to take into account all of the potential economic consequences of the withdrawal.
Last week, Campbell directed the parties to meet on April 17 about the schedule going forward.
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