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For Immediate Release, September 26, 2008


Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 253-8633

Settlement Repeals Uranium Exploration Near Grand Canyon,
Requires Full Reviews of Subsequent Drilling Proposals

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust and Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter have reached a settlement agreement with the United States Forest Service and VANE Minerals, a British mining firm, over a legal challenge to uranium exploration approved last December for national forest land immediately south – some within three miles – of Grand Canyon National Park.

The suit held that the Kaibab National Forest violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Appeals Reform Act when it approved 39 exploratory drilling holes using a “categorical exclusion” from detailed public and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. The settlement follows an April preliminary injunction and requires the Forest Service and VANE Minerals to withdraw the drilling approval and to undertake a full Environmental Impact Statement process prior to any renewed effort to drill at the sites.

“Public lands abutting Grand Canyon deserve better than the uranium industry’s vision of a radioactive industrial zone,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This settlement repeals an illegal exploration project and requires a full environmental and public review of any new drilling proposed for those sites. It’s a clear victory for the Grand Canyon.”

The 39 drilling sites’ approval was the first of five similar uranium exploration projects slated for national forest land immediately south of Grand Canyon National Park. Recent spikes in the price of uranium have caused mining companies to file thousands of new uranium claims, conduct dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and move to open several uranium mines on public lands both north and south of the Park.

Concerns about uranium development causing surface- and ground-water contamination of Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River have been expressed by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano; the Los Angeles Water District; the Southern Nevada Water Authority; the Arizona Game and Fish Department; the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai and Kaibab Paiute nations; and Coconino County.

“Uranium development poses a real and immediate threat to Grand Canyon and the Colorado River,” said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “At stake is the drinking water for tens of millions of Americans and the crown jewel of our national park system.”

Heeding these concerns, Congressman Raúl Grijalva in March introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, legislation that would prohibit new uranium exploration across 1 million acres of federal public lands in watersheds surrounding Grand Canyon. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources passed an emergency resolution requiring the Secretary of Interior to establish the same protections for three years across the same 1 million acres – which includes national forest lands south of Grand Canyon slated for new exploration.

“This settlement is a significant step toward protecting Grand Canyon and the Colorado River,” said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust. “Congress should follow the lead provided by Representative Nick Rahall and Representative Raúl Grijalva and pass the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2008 and reform the 1872 mining law. Both are critical to securing Grand Canyon’s future.”

The 1872 law established mining as the highest priority use of federal public lands by allowing mining companies, including foreign firms such as VANE Minerals, to mine federal lands without paying royalties, with minimal environmental safeguards and at the expense of other land uses. Attempts to reform the antiquated legislation so far have failed.

Attorneys Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity, Neil Levine of Grand Canyon Trust and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project argued the Grand Canyon uranium exploration suit and negotiated the settlement agreement.

To view a copy of today’s settlement agreement, click here.

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