PHOENIX (CN) – A 20-year ban on uranium mining on 1 million federal acres near the Grand Canyon will remain in effect, a federal judge ruled.
A coalition of uranium-mining advocates sued the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management in 2012 after former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar banned mining on more than 1 million acres of public land north of the national park.
U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell ruled Tuesday that though the federal government had “incomplete information regarding essential aspects of the withdrawal, including impacts on water resources and the extent of the uranium endowment in the withdrawn area,” there is no legal principle that prevents the government from enacting the ban.
“BLM openly acknowledged uncertainty on how water resources might be impacted,” Campbell wrote. “It candidly recognized a low probability of groundwater contamination from uranium mining. It nevertheless examined the available science, solicited and considered comments both internally and from the public, and ultimately concluded that the uncertainties, coupled with even a low potential for major adverse effects, warranted a level of precaution that justified the withdrawal.”
According to the coalition, without the withdrawal there would be “1,078 new jobs in the project area; $40 million annually from payroll; $29.4 billion in output; $2 billion in federal and state corporate income taxes; $168 million in state severance taxes; and $9.5 million in mining claims payments and fees to local governments” over a 40-year period.
Campbell found the federal government’s “task was predictive, and predictive in an area where sparse data precluded reasonable certainty. The Court cannot conclude that its decision to proceed cautiously was legally inappropriate.”
Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter, said the ban is good news for visitors to the Grand Canyon, nearby businesses and Native American tribes. The Sierra Club intervened in support of the federal government against the coalition.
“We will continue to do all we can do to ensure that uranium mines are not allowed to contaminate the groundwater and threaten streams and drinking water,” Bahr said in a statement. “This decision helps with that enormously.”
The ban does not affect more than 3,000 existing and previously approved uranium mining claims in the withdrawal area.
“A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape,” Secretary Salazar said in a statement after the ban. “People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water, irrigation, industrial and environmental use. We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources, and we have chosen a responsible path that makes sense for this and future generations.”
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