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Environment: Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups win the right to be part of lawsuit over uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park

The confluence of Havasu Creek with the Colorado River (river mile 157) is a popular place for boaters to stop and admire the striking blue-green water of Havasu Creek. The turquoise color is caused by water with a high mineral content. At the point where the blue creek meets the turbid colorado river there often appears a definite break. NPS photo by Erin Whittaker..

Prospector seeks to overturn ban on new uranium mines

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Native American Havasupai tribe, along with four conservation groups, will be party to a lawsuit regarding uranium mining in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon.

U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Martone last week ruled that the Havasupai and four conservation will be able defend the U.S. Department of the Interior’s January 2012 decision to ban new uranium mining claims for 20 years across 1 million acres of public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.

The ban was challenged on behalf of the industry by uranium prospector Gregory Yount.

“Friday’s decision means we’ll have a seat in the courtroom to protect the Grand Canyon region’s life-giving waters and deer, elk, condors and other wildlife, as well as the tremendous cultural resources so important to the Havasupai tribe,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice who is representing the coalition.

Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation and proposed legislation. Because dozens of new mines threaten to industrialize iconic and sacred natural areas, destroy wildlife habitat and pollute or deplete aquifers, scientists, tribal and local governments, and businesses have all voiced support for the new protections enacted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“Secretary Salazar was right to protect Grand Canyon from more uranium mining pollution,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that won intervention. “That’s a decision we’ll gladly defend in court.”

“The defense and protection of Grand Canyon and its watershed is a top priority for the Sierra Club,” said Sandy Bahr, director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, another intervener. “Uranium mining and this landscape are not compatible, as has been recognized by conservationists, Native American tribes, and now the government.  We need to defend this important decision.”

“Secretary Salazar’s decision is based on solid scientific evidence that uranium mining poses certain threats to watersheds, wildlife and other values unique to Grand Canyon’s ecosystems,” said Grand Canyon Trust program director Roger Clark. “It is a prudent precautionary measure to prevent irreversible harm to our national treasure.”

Mining and uranium interests have filed three other lawsuits hoping to eliminate the Interior Department’s environmental protection measures in federal court in Arizona. The coalition intends to move to intervene to defend the mineral withdrawal in those cases in the coming weeks.

A copy of the court order is available at
http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/Grand.Canyon.Uranium.decision..pdf

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