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Feds Sued for Snubbing Grand Canyon Uranium-mining Ban

In defense of one of the nation's most impressive natural wonders, this Monday the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club sued the Bush administration for authorizing uranium exploration near Grand Canyon National Park -- in direct defiance of a congressional resolution. That resolution, approved almost unanimously by the House Committee on Natural Resources last June, requires the Department of the Interior to withdraw 1 million acres of public-land watersheds surrounding the park from all new uranium mines and exploration to protect the Grand Canyon area's lands, wildlife, and water. Instead of doing that, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has continued to authorize and start up new uranium projects north of the canyon, right inside the off-limits area.

In March, Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, which would permanently withdraw from mineral extraction the same 1 million acres covered by Congress's resolution.

Read more in Forbes.

Settlement Stops Uranium Exploration Near Grand Canyon

Some decidedly good news for Grand Canyon-area watersheds in their uranium dilemma came last Thursday, when the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club reached a settlement with the U.S. Forest Service and British mining firm VANE Minerals over a challenge to uranium mining approved just three miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. Our suit, filed in March, held that the Kaibab National Forest violated the law by approving no less than 39 exploratory drilling holes on national forest land near the national park using a "categorical exclusion" that required only the skimpiest environmental review. In April, we won a preliminary injunction halting the drilling, which would have posed grave threats to the area's water. Now, our settlement requires the Forest Service and VANE to withdraw drilling approval and go through a full environmental impact statement process before making any new drilling efforts.

"Public lands abutting the Grand Canyon deserve better than the uranium industry's vision of a radioactive industrial zone," asserted the Center's public lands director Taylor McKinnon. "It's a clear victory for the Grand Canyon."

Read more in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Bush Must Return Protections to Great Lakes Gray Wolves

In a second victory in two weeks for one of the country's most persecuted predators, this Monday a federal judge told the Bush administration it couldn't remove protections from gray wolves living in the Great Lakes region. The ruling ends a conservationist lawsuit, in which the Center for Biological Diversity supported the plaintiffs, challenging a 2007 decision that singled out gray wolves in the Great Lakes area and removed their Endangered Species Act protections . . . despite the fact that gray wolves have barely started to recover across their historic range. Along with the feds' 2008 decision to strip northern Rockies wolves' protections -- a decision abandoned in mid-September -- the 2007 move reveals an assault on the recovery of gray wolves throughout almost all their range in the lower 48 states.

Since their Endangered Species Act listing in 1978, gray wolves have increased to 4,000 individuals in Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- but their vast majority is confined to northern Minnesota, and the gray wolf remains absent from about 95 percent of its historic range. This week's ruling puts a halt on the killing of hundreds of wolves and shows that the administration failed to heed the central purpose of the Endangered Species Act: to help species recover.

Read more in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

48 Hawaiian Species Finally Proposed for Federal Safeguards

In a many-years-late-and-scores-of-species-short move this Tuesday, the Department of the Interior at last proposed to grant Endangered Species Act protections to 48 imperiled species found only in Hawaii. Most if not all of the species have been the subject of petitions and litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity, which in 2004 petitioned Interior to protect 225 plants and animals declared deserving of protection -- which were then put on a list of "candidates" for protection instead of actually receiving it. (Seventy-nine percent of those species had been on the list for at least a decade.) In Tuesday's announcement, Interior claimed it was using a "newly developed ecosystem approach" to species conservation -- an approach actually developed by the Clinton administration and all but destroyed during the George W. Bush era.

"While we welcome this action," declared Center senior counsel Mike Senatore, ". . . in no way does it make up for the administration's abysmal track record. It also does nothing for the hundreds of additional species that have languished for years awaiting protection." The announcement in fact falls short of an earlier Interior declaration that it would propose to protect 71 species.

Hear more about it from

Supreme Court to Decide Public's Role in Illegal Government Decisions

Brace yourselves, all who care about our country's natural areas: The U.S. Supreme Court has set a date to decide whether the public can effectively challenge illegal government regulations, and whether citizens have the right to administratively challenge a wide range of Forest Service projects on our national forests.

On October 8, the Supreme Court will hear a case begun when the Center for Biological Diversity and allies challenged new regulations developed in 2003 under the Appeals Reform Act. These rules tried to do away with the public's right to administratively appeal a variety of projects that the Forest Service has "categorically excluded" from environmental review, which could include decisions on timber sales, oil and gas development, and off-road vehicle use. Luckily, the challenge of those regulations was successful and upheld on appeal. However, the Supreme Court granted the administration's request to review the case, opening up a much larger issue that debates when citizens should be able to effectively challenge any regulation issued by a federal agency. According to the feds, the courts only have the authority to review new regulations in the context of specific projects, and any order to enjoin the regulations should only affect the project that's challenged -- which would allow the illegal regulation to stay in place throughout the rest of the country. Says Center attorney Marc Fink: "This case is the latest attempt by the Bush administration to limit public involvement and further close the courthouse door to those harmed by bad Forest Service decisions."

The Center is represented by Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center; our suit allies are Earth Island Institute, Heartwood, the Sierra Club, and Sequoia ForestKeeper.

Get the details in our press release, where you can also read an extensive case history.

Administration Sued for Picking Politics Over Wolverine Protection

After the Bush administration refused to protect the American wolverine under the Endangered Species Act -- despite the recommendations of its own scientists -- the Center for Biological Diversity and nine allies filed suit this Tuesday. The daring wolverine has been known to face off with bears over prey, but besides being threatened by trapping, human disturbance, and habitat fragmentation, this largest member of the weasel family is at direct risk from climate change as warming temperatures melt the snowpack it depends on for birthing and raising young. Though these threats drove U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to declare federal protections for the animal "warranted," last March the agency ignored the science and announced that no protection would be granted, claiming that American wolverines aren't sufficiently "discrete" from Canadian populations and that their current range in the lower 48 isn't significant to the species as a whole. Documents obtained by the Center show that Washington officials actually overruled scientists for political reasons -- in order to prevent the wolverine from being added to the just-budding list of species protected under the Act due to climate change.

Read more in the Missoulian.

Wal-Mart's "Eco-gold" is 14-Karat Façade

Wal-Mart claims that its new jewelry line Love, Earth is eco-friendly because the precious metals it uses are traceable to the original mines. This, says the world's largest retailer, means the gold and silver are "mined and manufactured to our standards and criteria." But what, pray tell, are Wal-Mart's standards and criteria? Actually, the company's gold comes from Utah and Nevada mines owned by mining giants Rio Tinto and Newmont Mining Corp., both notorious for causing environmental damage in the United States and overseas. Making matters worse, Wal-Mart's standards reportedly aren't monitored or certified by any credible independent party. Environmental problems at Newmont's Nevada mines include depletion of the water table, air pollution, "acid mine drainage," and toxic holding ponds laced with cyanide and heavy metals.

We at the Center for Biological Diversity believe that "sustainable mining" can't include strip mining and cyanide heap leach mining that destroys entire ecosystems -- and that's why we'd like to send out a big thanks to the 4,000-plus responders to our August action alert opposing the Conglomerate Mesa gold-mining proposal near Death Valley National Park, which would also use this poisonous cyanide-leaching process in a former wilderness study area. Your actions make a huge difference, and we'll keep fighting until this ill-conceived proposal is scrapped entirely.

Read more about Wal-Mart's not-so-eco-friendly enterprises in New West Development.

Gore Says No to Dirty Coal Plants, Greenhouse Gas Levels Jump

Last week in a New York philanthropic meeting, Nobel Peace Prize winner and famous anti-warming warrior Al Gore encouraged our nation's youth to engage in civil disobedience to stop the construction of coal plants that can't capture and store carbon. According to the U.S. government, about 28 coal plants are under construction in the country, and another 20 projects are in line for construction. Yet no commercial-scale projects exists anywhere to demonstrate carbon sequestration technology, which could help fight global warming by keeping power plants' greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, greenhouse gases have really been piling up -- last Thursday, international scientists announced that worldwide manmade carbon dioxide emissions jumped by 3 percent just last year. This means we're globally churning out more of the world's leading driver of climate change than was predicted in the worst-case scenario laid out in 2007 by a Nobel Prize-winning group of international scientists.

Get more on Gore from Reuters and hear about the greenhouse gas increase from the Associated Press.

Kierán Suckling
Executive Director

Photo credits: gray wolf courtesy of USFWS; Grand Canyon, two photos (c) Edward McCain; gray wolf by Tracy Brooks, USFWS; Kauai courtesy of Wikipedia; San Bernardino National Forest by Monica Bond; wolverine (c) Gerald and Buff Corsi, California Academy of Sciences; Al Gore (c) Brett Wilson.

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