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For Immediate Release, July 12, 2010

Contacts:  Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790

Appeal Filed in Lawsuit to Protect Grand Canyon From Uranium Mining

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— Conservation groups and Native American tribes today appealed a federal court decision that denied a request to halt uranium mining just six miles north of Grand Canyon National Park. The appeal filed with the Ninth District Court of Appeals challenges a lower court’s June 17 decision on the groups’ request for a preliminary injunction at the Arizona 1 uranium mine. The appeal was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Kaibab Paiute Tribe and Havasupai Tribe.

The case could set important precedent on whether long-closed mines on public lands can resume operations using outdated mining plans and environmental reviews. The Bureau of Land Management approved the Arizona 1 mining plan in 1988. The mine closed in 1992 before producing any uranium. It was allowed to reopen in November 2009 without a plan update or environmental assessment to reflect new information, including that the mine could damage the hydrology, spring ecology, biodiversity and cultural resources of Grand Canyon National Park and adjacent public lands.

“The Bureau of Land Management is playing Russian roulette with Grand Canyon National Park’s aquifers and wildlife,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Grand Canyon deserves better than shirking environmental reviews and risking irretrievable pollution for the benefit of the uranium industry.”

Geologists have warned that mining could deplete and contaminate aquifers that discharge into Grand Canyon and that cleaning them up would be next to impossible. A U.S. Geological Survey study this year found elevated uranium levels in soil and water sources associated with past uranium mining, and the National Park Service warns against drinking or swimming in uranium-contaminated creeks in Grand Canyon. The Arizona 1 mine is in a California condor reintroduction area and within the one-million-acre area that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed off-limits to new mining claims and operations in July 2009.

“The Grand Canyon region continues to be poisoned by the flow of radioactive contaminants that have been spilling into the land and water for decades,” said Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. “The human and ecological harm caused by this unseen environmental disaster must cease. Federal agencies should stop sacrificing our national heritage to enrich private mineral profits extracted from public lands.”

“It is outrageous and unconscionable that the BLM and this uranium mining company place so little emphasis on protecting the Grand Canyon, its waters and wildlife,” said Sandy Bahr with the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “We must not allow uranium mines with great potential to pollute the water for a very, very long time to move forward without insisting on the best and most recent information and the strongest protections possible.”

Attorneys representing the plaintiff groups in today’s litigation are Amy Atwood of the Center for Biological Diversity, Neil Levine of Grand Canyon Trust ,and Roger Flynn of the Western Mining Action Project.

The Arizona 1 uranium mine is the first mine to resume operations near Grand Canyon. The groups and tribes originally filed suit in November 2009, challenging the BLM’s failure to update the 1980s-era mining plan and environmental reviews for Arizona 1. The BLM allowed Denison Mines Corporation to begin mining based on the decades-old plan and outdated environmental review. 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. Since the 1980s, substantial new information has come to light that calls into question the BLM’s 1988 determination that the mine’s impacts to Grand Canyon National Park’s hydrology, spring ecology and biodiversity are insignificant.

Proposed uranium development in the Grand Canyon watershed has provoked litigation, public protests and statements of concern and opposition from scientists, city and county officials, former Gov. 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. Statewide polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies showed overwhelming public support for withdrawing from mineral entry the lands near Grand Canyon; Arizonans supported protecting the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining by a two-to-one margin. 

Denison Mines, which owns the Arizona 1 mine, is a Canadian mining corporation. Last year KEPCO, a Korean energy firm, purchased shares of Denison amounting to 17 percent of Denison’s capital. The deal requires that 20 percent of Denison’s annual uranium production be delivered to KEPCO until 2015. KEPCO has since entered into a contract with the United Arab Emirates to construct, operate, and supply nuclear fuel to new nuclear plants in that country. Since 2009 the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued Denison 62 citations for safety violations at its two uranium mines on the Colorado Plateau, the Arizona 1 and the Pandora mine in Utah. Earlier this year the EPA cited Denison for operating the Arizona 1 mine without a Clean Air Act permit for radon emissions.

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