Spike in uranium prices, renewed interest in nuclear power spurring plans for mines; green groups say feds must consider cumulative impacts and endangered species
By Bob Berwyn
Environmental groups are going to court to challenge federal approval for the restart of an old uranium mine near the north rim the Grand Canyon.
The Arizona 1 mine was built during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but was closed 1992 without ever producing any uranium. A recent spike in the price of uranium prompted the mine’s owners seek renewed approval for mining operations.
The Bureau of Land management granted that permit several years ago, but the environmental groups are claiming the environmental studies are outdated.
The lawsuit raises another red flag about potential impacts to animals on the endangered species list. In general, the conservation groups want to raise awareness about potential threats to the greater Grand Canyon ecosystem from uranium mining.
The mine is located about 10 to 15 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Officials with the Toronto-based company that owns the mine told the Canwest News Service that there is enough geographical distance and geological separation between the mine and the national park to minimize potential threats.
Federal environmental laws require the BLM to consider new information the hydrology, spring ecology, and biodiversity of the area in order to accurately evaluate the impacts of the mine, according to Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The National Environmental Policy Act specifically requires updated studies after a certain amount of time, or if there is new information to be considered.
Since the rise in uranium prices has triggered a slew of new applications for mines, federal land managers must also evaluate cumulative impacts.
A new look is warranted is warranted given new information, circumstances, and public controversy about renewed uranium mining near Grand Canyon. McKinnon said. The suit also cites violations of the Endangered Species Act in the federal government’s failure to ensure that new mining will not jeopardize threatened and endangered species or their critical habitat — including Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail, razorback sucker, southwestern willow flycatcher, and Mexican spotted owl.
The mine is an area that was put off limits to new mines by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
“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.”
It’s also not clear whether the mine’s owners have established valid rights to the uranium they want to mine.
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 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, according to the environmental coalition fighting the mine.
The Park Service warns against drinking from several creeks in the Canyon exhibiting elevated uranium levels from past uranium mining.
Uranium mining has sparked public protests in Arizona.Groups