YEAR IN REVIEW: Uranium mining an ongoing issue

Congress and courts get involved

The past year brought renewed attention and pressure on the uranium mining industry, as VANE Minerals moved forward on a permit for exploration on the Tusayan Ranger District.

The move met with wide opposition, with the Coconino County Board of Supervisors approving a resolution opposing uranium mining around Grand Canyon and the Native American tribes, who had already banned uranium mining on their reservations, speaking out against the decision.

In March, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Trust filed a lawsuit challenging the approval of up to 39 new uranium exploration sites near Grand Canyon.

The suit focuses on the Forest Service's failure to fully consider the controversy and cumulative impacts attending all uranium exploration slated for the area. It cites National Environmental Policy Act, Appeals Reform Act, and Administrative Procedures Act violations.

In early April, a federal judge issued a restraining order to halt exploration by VANE Minerals pending a ruling on that suit. In the fall, the ruling did come down, requiring that the company reapply for its permit and do a full environmental assessment rather than the less rigorous categorical exclusion.

Also in the spring, Arizona's 4th District congressman, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva led a field hearing in support of legislation he is sponsoring to curb mining on about 1 million acres in proximity to Grand Canyon National Park.

Testifying were representatives from the Navajo, Kaibab Paiute, Havasupai, Hualapai and Hopi tribes; representatives from Coconino County and Kane County, Utah; Park Service; Forest Service; river running industry, mining industry and scientific community.

Over the summer, in a vote of 20-2, with Republicans absent in protest, Grijalva's Committee on Natural Resources voted to enact a little-used provision to place a moratorium on new mining claims on public lands around Grand Canyon.

He cited threats to the rare and natural landscape in and around the Grand Canyon as well as to nearby watersheds and the Colorado River as the reason for emergency action.

The resolution protects about 1 million acres on the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the Canyon, the Kanab Creek watershed north of the park and House Rock Valley, between Grand Canyon National Park and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

Legislation (HR 5583) would make the protection permanent.

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