For Immediate Release, February 11, 2010
Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713, email@example.com
Bureau of Land Management Sued for Withholding Records on Uranium Mines
That Threaten Grand Canyon
Agency Ignores Obama's Freedom of Information Directive
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— Today the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for illegally withholding public records relating to uranium mines immediately north of Grand Canyon National Park. The suit asserts that the Bureau violated the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to disclose records pursuant to a July 30, 2009 request submitted by the Center. The Bureau is withholding the vast majority of eight linear feet of responsive records despite directives from the Obama administration requiring the agency to respond to information requests “promptly and in a spirit of cooperation” and to adopt a “presumption of disclosure.”
“The chasm between Obama’s policies and the Bureau’s practices are as wide as the Grand Canyon itself,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director with the Center. “We’ve spent months giving the Bureau every opportunity to fulfill our requests, but this is an agency that, even with the Grand Canyon and endangered species hanging in the balance, refuses to voluntarily comply with open government or environmental laws.”
Some of the records being withheld relate to the Arizona 1 mine. In November, the Center for Biological Diversity and other plaintiffs sued the Bureau of Land Management for refusing to undertake new National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act reviews prior to allowing Denison Mines to resume mining. The Bureau insists that 1988 compliances are adequate for the mine, which operated for a short period prior to closing in the early 1990s. Despite a host of new circumstances since 1988, including the listing of threatened and endangered species, Bureau officials refuse to update analyses for any of the mines near Grand Canyon National Park.
“The Bureau of Land Management has painted a caricature of itself at the Grand Canyon,” said McKinnon. “The agency is acting as a secretive surrogate for the mining industry that views open government, endangered species, and environmental laws as a nuisance rather than a priority.”
The Interior Department in July 2009 enacted a land segregation order, now in force, and proposed a 20-year mineral withdrawal, which is now being analyzed, for one million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Both measures prohibit new mining claims and the exploration and mining of existing claims for which valid existing rights have not been established. The Bureau of Land Management has failed to produce any documents demonstrating the establishment of valid existing rights for the Arizona 1 mine or other mines around Grand Canyon.
Bureau officials have stated that many of the records requested by the Center for Biological Diversity would be made available on a Bureau Web site relating to the segregation order and proposed mineral withdrawal. However, to date the Bureau has only posted Federal Register notices, a few maps, fact sheets, and – perhaps speaking to its orientation toward Interior’s proposed mineral withdrawal – an antiquated video promoting uranium mining that the Bureau developed in conjunction with the uranium industry in the late 1980s.
“The legacy of past uranium mining still lingers as deadly radiological contamination of land and water near and within Grand Canyon National Park,” said McKinnon. “To think that new mining will yield different results is foolish and irresponsible.”
Amy Atwood, senior attorney and public lands energy director at the Center, wrote and will argue today’s lawsuit.
Spikes in uranium prices have caused thousands of new uranium claims, dozens of proposed exploration drilling projects, and proposals to reopen old uranium mines adjacent to the Grand Canyon. Renewed uranium development threatens to degrade wildlife habitat and industrialize now-wild and iconic landscapes bordering the park; it also threatens to deplete and contaminate aquifers that discharge into Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River. The Park Service warns against drinking from several creeks in the canyon exhibiting elevated uranium levels in the wake of past uranium mining.
These threats have provoked litigation; legislation; public protests and statements of concern and opposition from scientists, city officials, county officials – including from Coconino County – former Governor Janet Napolitano, state representatives, the Navajo Nation, and the Kaibab Paiute, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, among others. Polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies shows overwhelming public support for withdrawing from mineral entry the lands near Grand Canyon; Arizonans support protecting the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining by a two-to-one margin.
Download today’s lawsuit here.