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Miners Want Million Acres Near Grand Canyon

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (CN) - A mining advocacy group claims the recent withdrawal from new mining claims of more than 1 million public acres north of the Grand Canyon violates a host of federal laws and puts an illegal burden on its members and their hundreds of mining claims in the region.

The Northwest Mining Association, based in Spokane, Wash., sued the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, and Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, in Federal Court.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in January removed large portions of Northern Arizona's Kaibab National Forest and other public lands north of Grand Canyon National Park from new hard-rock mining claims for 20 years, to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River watershed.

The decision, which came after 2 years of study and public comment, did not affect existing and previously approved uranium mines, leaving more than 3,000 mining claims in the withdrawal area.

The National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute sued the federal government in late February, seeking to vacate the move. The new complaint, from the Northwest Mining Association (NWMA), was filed by Mountain States Legal Foundation, of Lakewood, Colo.

The NWMA claims that its members "have properly located and currently maintain hundreds of unpatented mining claims on and near the Arizona Strip," a vast, lonely region north of the Grand Canyon near the Utah border.

"Virtually all of these claims are located within the over 1 million acres of federal lands withdrawn by defendants," the complaint states. "But for the withdrawal, NWMA's members would seek to locate additional claims on the withdrawn lands. Accordingly, NWMA and its members have suffered injury in fact and are adversely affected and/or aggrieved by defendants' withdrawal."

The group claims that comments collected during the environmental review process suggest that "uranium mining is not an environmental threat to the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River watershed," and that "the extent of the uranium resources and the economic impact associated with a withdrawal were grossly underestimated."

Mountain States Legal Foundation spokesman William Perry Pendley in a statement: "Secretary Salazar's decision is particularly outrageous because one of his own agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey, estimates that the withdrawn lands contain uranium that, if mined to capacity, would generate electricity to power Los Angeles for 154 years."

The group seeks judicial review, claiming the withdrawal of lands violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

NWMA is represented by Steven Lechner and Jeffrey McCoy, with the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

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