(CN) - The decision to reopen a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon after decades of disuse did not need a new environmental review, the 9th Circuit ruled Monday.
Canada-based Denison Mines reopened the Arizona 1 Mine in 2009 based on an environmental impact study approved by the Bureau of Land Management in 1988. The mine, which is about six miles north of the Grand Canyon's remote north rim, had last been operated in the early 1990s.
The Center for Biological Diversity and several other groups and Indian tribes claimed in a federal complaint that the agency should have required Denison to submit new environmental reviews before mining resumed.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell rejected challenges over the groups' mine's reopening and upheld the bureau's approval of a free-use permit that allowed Denison to repair mine access by removing gravel from a wash.
Neil Levine, an attorney for the environmental groups, told a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit during oral arguments in October 2012 that the Arizona 1 mine is among several old and outdated uranium operations in the region that have resumed operations recently like "zombies", without updated environmental reviews.
Nonetheless, the panel ruled Monday that bureau had properly interpreted federal environmental regulations in allowing mining to resume under the 1988 permit.
"While the regulations provide for temporary closures and identify what a mine operator must do when it 'stop[s] conducting operations,' no regulation requires approval of a new plan of operations before regular mining activities may recommence following a temporary closure," Judge J. Clifford Wallace wrote for the unanimous panel (brackets in original).
"If, as appellants contend, the regulations provided for a 'stepdown' process and required approval of a new plan of operations before mining could restart following any temporary cessation of mining activities, one would expect them to do so clearly," he added. "They do not."
This reality does not allow companies to close and reopen uranium mines at will without oversight, Wallace added.
"BLM also has the ability to require a modification to a plan of operations where new concerns as to unnecessary and undue degradation arise," he wrote. "Although BLM failed to cut-short or modify the 1988 plan of operations, that plan remains bounded by its own terms and is still subject to future actions by BLM to cut short or modify the plan, if appropriate. Under BLM's interpretation, then, neither the Arizona 1 Mine plan nor plans generally remain effective indefinitely."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.