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Deseret News, November 16, 2009

Suit challenges Utah company mining near Grand Canyon
By Amy Joi O'Donoghue

A coalition of environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging a Utah company's plans to begin uranium mining operations within 10 miles of Grand Canyon National Park.

The Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Grand Canyon Trust claim the Bureau of Land Management is using an old environmental assessment from 1988 in allowing Denison Mines to begin operations at the "Arizona 1" mine.

"The Bureau of Land Management's refusal to redo outdated environmental reviews is as illegal as it is unethical," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "It should be eager to protect the Grand Canyon and its endangered species; instead, it has chosen to shirk environmental review on behalf of the uranium industry."

The mine was partially constructed in the late 1980s and early 1990s but was closed due to market conditions in 1992 without producing any uranium ore.

New conditions have driven Denison Mines Corp. to seek approval for the mining activity through various regulatory authorities, including the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which issued an air quality permit that would allow uranium ore mining at a rate of close to 110,000 tons a year, according to the complaint.

The complaint, which also names the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, asserts "the recommencement of uranium exploration and mining operations at the Arizona 1 mine may cause environmental impacts that have never been considered," including consequences to groundwater, fish, wildlife, and threatened and endangered species.

The suit cites violations of National Environmental Policy Act provisions that require the land-management agency to consider new information regarding the hydrology, spring ecology and biodiversity of the area.

Despite the mine's location in the same area that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed off-limits to new mining claims and operations earlier this year, the BLM has refused to exercise renewed scrutiny of the corporation's plans.

Salazar's prohibition of new mining activity on more than 1 million acres of federal land near the park says such actions can only occur if they are the result of a valid pre-existing claim in which a "valuable mineral deposit" has been discovered, according to the complaint.

The suit contends that neither the Department of the Interior nor the BLM have bothered to "verify" the existence of mineral deposits and has repeatedly ignored the groups' requests for a new assessment.

Filed in Arizona's federal court, the suit seeks to set aside any authorizations of exploration and mining operations at the mine and a mineral examination report to verify valid existing claims.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton