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Public Lands Mining

San Diego Union-Tribune, September 26, 2008

Feds agree to do study on Grand Canyon mining
By Jacques Billeaud, Associated Press

PHOENIX – The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to do full environmental studies on a uranium exploration project near the Grand Canyon after environmental groups protested the government's earlier decision to approve the drilling with only minimal review.

The agreement is part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups, the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and Center for Biological Diversity. They sued the Forest Service in March because it was allowing British mining company VANE Minerals Group to drill at up to 39 locations on seven sites immediately south of the canyon in the Kaibab National Forest. The settlement was approved Thursday.

The groups, which contend the project poses a threat to water quality in tributaries of the Colorado River, succeeded in getting a federal judge in April to halt the exploration project.

“The Grand Canyon deserves better than the uranium industry's vision of a radioactive industrial zone,” Taylor McKinnon, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Friday.

Gary Urman, an attorney representing VANE Minerals Group, said the company intends to get the environmental reviews and continue with the project, which is subject to the government's approval.

The company is seeking commercial quantities of uranium, which has soared in price in recent years.

VANE had begun exploratory drilling at three tests sites after the lawsuit was filed, but the judge immediately halted operations and indicated that the environmental groups were likely to prevail.

As part of the lawsuit settlement, the Forest Service agreed that it won't approve exploration through a so-called categorical exclusion, a decision which required only minimal environmental review.

Jacqueline Banks, a spokeswoman for the Kaibab National Forest, didn't immediately return calls for comment on Friday afternoon.

In previously approving the project, the Forest Service said the 1872 Mining Law specifically authorizes mining on public lands and it couldn't prohibit the activity.

The environmental groups said federal officials should have considered the proximity of the Grand Canyon and the combined effects of four other uranium exploration projects in the area.

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Photo © Paul S. Hamilton