The US mining industry has asked the supreme court to overturn an Obama-era rule prohibiting the mining of uranium on public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.
The National Mining Association (NMA) and the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) filed petitions on Friday asking the court to reverse the 2012 ban on new uranium mining claims on more than 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon national park.
In December, the ninth circuit court of appeals upheld the ban after a legal challenge by the industry, to the relief of environmental groups and Native American tribes in northern Arizona.
Ken Salazar, then secretary of the interior, instituted the ban for 20 years on public land that the Havasupai tribe relies on for water.
NMA spokesman Luke Popovich said his organization was challenging Salazar’s constitutional authority and said uranium mining did not harm the land.
“There is scant evidence that uranium mining outside the park boundaries poses any threat to either the environment or visitor experience,” Popovich said, adding that Salazar ignored a finding by the interior department’s Bureau of Land Management that showed mining would have little impact.
Conservation groups disagreed and said the ban should remain in place until scientists have time to study the contamination risks.
“Is it worth gambling the future of the Grand Canyon to allow private companies to line their pockets when the risks to groundwater are unknown?” said Roger Clark, a program director at the Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental advocacy group.
The supreme court only takes up a minority of cases presented to it. The lawsuit is filed against Donald Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. Zinke is generally pro-mining and has been lobbied by the industry to expand their interests on public lands in the west; it is the government that is being sued.
Perhaps Zinke forgot to read his job description: It is to protect the environment, not hand it over to corporate interests that intend to deface, pollute, and poison the land for generations.
The global uranium market is currently flooded, meaning that mining in the US is not profitable. That could change as the Trump administration considers protections that could increase domestic demand.
In December, in a parallel decision in the ninth circuit, the court rejected an appeal by the Havasupai and others against Canyon Mine, which belongs to Energy Fuels Resources and is being sunk on National Forest land five miles south of the rim of the Grand Canyon. The mine avoids the Salazar ban because it is based on a historic claim and is a revival of a dormant site.
The mine sits above groundwater that ultimately flows into a side canyon just west of Grand Canyon national park and becomes the sole water source for the Havasupai’s traditional homeland deep in the gorge, which is famous for its turquoise waterfalls.
Scientists studying the effects of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon say they lack information on whether the radioactive element is hurting plants, animals and a water source for more than 30 million people – the Colorado river, which is used by people in Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico.
The US Geological Survey said its experts will not get to fully gather vital research if Trump’s 2019 budget, which scraps money for the project, is approved.