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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Plan to Keep Land From Miners Still Uncertain

(CN) - A federal judge preserved several challenges to the withdrawal of nearly 1 million acres of public land near Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims.

Early last year, soon-to-be-former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar removed large portions of northwestern Arizona's Kaibab National Forest and other public lands from new uranium mining claims for 20 years.

The withdrawal, meant to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River watershed, came after two years of study and public comment, and did not affect existing and previously approved uranium mines, leaving more than 3,000 mining claims in the area.

It brought challenges from the Arizona-Utah Local Economic Coalition, the National Mining Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, the Northwest Mining Association, Quaterra Alaska Inc., and Gregory Yount, a self-employed prospector and miner.

The District of Arizona consolidated the cases last summer.

In a motion to dismiss, the government argued that none of the business interests could show a concrete injury resulting from the withdrawal.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell disagreed last week, noting that the groups claim that the mining withdrawal will cost them millions.

"The coalition has alleged facts showing that projected state revenues that flow to Mohave County from the mining industry will be significantly reduced as a result of the withdrawal," according to the ruling from Prescott, Ariz.

Opponents say the withdrawal will hurt business, jobs and even environmental planning in the region. They say that the removal will kill, over a 40-year period, 1,078 new jobs, $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.

Campbell also advanced claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The Mojave County Board Supervisors claims that the withdrawal will lead to "the use of coal-fired power plants or other sources of energy that are more harmful to Mohave County's air and water quality than nuclear energy, and will reduce Mohave County's available funds to pave its roads (thereby reducing dust and erosion) and protect desert tortoise," the ruling states (parentheses in original).

The board's chairman said the government "did not allow the local governments to submit supplemental economic data about how the withdrawal would affect their communities."

He also claimed that it "disregarded Mohave County's comprehensive plan, and ... ignored notices and invitations from coalition members demanding coordination with them and reconciliation of inconsistencies between the withdrawal and their local plans and policies," according to the ruling.

"Mohave County has alleged that the withdrawal decision interferes with its ability to carry out identified environmental objectives of its Land Use Plan," Campbell wrote. "These are the types of concrete interests that the procedural requirements of NEPA were designed to protect."

Campbell also found that the National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute had "alleged injury to an environmental interest that is sufficiently intertwined with their economic interests to bring them within NEPA zone of interests."

This gives them standing related to those claims, but Quaterra and Yount failed to show the same, according to the ruling.


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