US mining industry trade groups have asked the US Supreme Court to review the executive department of the Interior Department’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on one-million acres of public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.
The Interior Department is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal lands and resources.
The requests from nonprofit organisation American Exploration and Mining Association and US trade organisation National Mining Association (NMA) come in response to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in December last year, which upheld the Grand Canyon mineral withdrawal.
In 2012, former secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar instituted the ban on public land that the Native American Havasupai tribe relies on for water.
A mineral withdrawal closes an area to the location of new mining claims and requires existing claim holders to demonstrate the claim is valid before beginning mining activities.
The Havasupai tribe, nonprofit organisation Grand Canyon Trust, environmental organisation Sierra Club, nonprofit membership organisation Centre for Biological Diversity and independent nonpartisan membership organisation National Parks Conservation Association intervened in the lawsuit in 2013 to defend the department’s decision to protect the Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks, wildlife, and vistas from new toxic uranium-mining pollution.
The tribe and conservation groups are represented by public-interest law firms Earthjustice and Western Mining Action Project.
The mining industry’s petitions allege that the Interior secretary’s authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to protect areas larger than 5 000 acres from mining is unconstitutional. However, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit and US District Court Judge David Campbell of Phoenix rejected that argument.
“This is an attack on the Grand Canyon region, which is bad enough,” Earthjustice attorney Ted Zukosi noted in a statement.
He further averred that it was a “long-shot attempt to kneecap the Interior Department’s authority to ever again protect large public landscapes from the damage and pollution hardrock mining can have on recreation, cultural resources, wildlife, clean air and water, and the communities that rely on those values”.
The Supreme Court will review the petitions after the Havasupai tribe and conservation groups have an opportunity to respond. The court could take the case for further review or reject the petitions and let the Ninth Circuit Court decision stand.
According to media reports, NMA spokesperson Luke Popovich said his organisation was challenging Salazar’s Constitutional authority (to declare the land withdrawals).