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British mining company sues U.S. government over Grand Canyon uranium mining moratorium

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The Grand Canyon. Courtesy NPS.

Vane Minerals seeks $132 million in damages

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The long-running battle over uranium mining near the Grand Canyon took another twist this week as a British company, VANE Minerals, sued the United States in Washington’s U.S. Court of Claims over the decision to protect 1 million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining.

VANE’s suit claims that uranium mining in Grand Canyon’s watershed “would have no adverse impacts.” The company is seeking up to $132 million from U.S. taxpayers. This is VANE’s second attempt to bring such a suit against the U.S.

Uranium mining around the Grand Canyon is based primarily on speculation aimed at inflating the value of companies involved in the sagging industry.

“Leaders of the American Revolution would be horrified that British and foreign uranium firms might one day threaten our cherished national park,” said Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director with Grand Canyon Trust.

VANE’s case threatens both the Grand Canyon mineral withdrawal and future mineral withdrawals to protect public lands. VANE seeks damages for mining claims it staked in the 1 million-acre withdrawal area that lack valid existing rights to mine.

The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and development on existing mining claims that lack valid existing rights.

Vane is also in a partnership with a Canadian-based company that in turn is owned by the state-owned Russian Rosatom, the Russian State Corporation for Nuclear Energy.

If the court accepts Vane’s arguments, precedent may be established that the Interior Department will face “takings” claims for any future withdrawal, even where, as here, all valid existing mineral rights have been protected. Government attorneys successfully moved to dismiss VANE’s first case making these claims in May, according to the Grand Canyon Trust.

“It is absolutely outrageous that a foreign mining corporation is seeking to pick the pockets of the American taxpayers to the tune of $132 million because we are protecting Grand Canyon’s watershed from destructive uranium mining,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “The mineral withdrawal that prompted this lawsuit is strongly supported by Arizonans and people throughout the country.”

View VANE’s complaint here.

Background

On January 9, 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a twenty-year mineral withdrawal (the maximum allowed administratively) that prohibits new mining claims and development on existing mining claims that lack valid existing rights. Vane Minerals has not established valid existing rights for any of its mining claims in the withdrawal area.

The withdrawal was achieved through an unprecedented and formidable coalition of tribal, business, and civic leaders; hunting, fishing, ranching, and conservation groups; geologists, hydrologists, water resource managers, wildlife proponents, city, county, state, and federal elected officials; and hundreds of thousands of individuals who commented favorably on the proposed moratorium.

Uranium industry attempts to overturn the withdrawal in Arizona’s federal district court have thus far failed; tribes and conservation groups have intervened on the side of the government to support the protections.

According to VANE Minerals’ website: “Since December 2004, VANE (US) LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of VANE, has aggressively acquired a uranium portfolio in the US. VANE (US) LLC has built up a considerable portfolio of projects, covering both strata-bound deposits in Utah and the unique high grade breccia pipe projects in Northern Arizona, where on part of the district VANE has a 50/50 Joint venture agreement with Uranium One Exploration (USA) (“U1”) in which, in general terms, VANE does the exploration and U1 will do the mining.” (http://www.vaneminerals.com/about/ accessed on 06/24/2013)

Uranium One’s website states: “Uranium One Inc. is a Canadian-based company and is one of the world’s largest publicly traded uranium producers…. With a 51% ownership stake, Uranium One’s major shareholder is JSC Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ) which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rosatom, the Russian State Corporation for Nuclear Energy. (http://www.uranium1.com/index.php/en/ accessed on 06/24/2013)

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9 Responses

  1. I see objective unbiased reporting has finally died – at least it has in this article.

    Anyone who has the remotest inkling of how mining breccia pipes works will know there is absolutely NO scientific, historical or even anecdotal evidence of lasting widespread environmental damage caused by the extraction process.

    The whole article is a semi-fictitious scaremongering piece, emphasizing ‘foreign’ ‘Russian links’ and ‘taxpayers pockets being picked’ at the expense of the truth. The link to the court document provides a far more factual exposition of the issues at stake here.

    But then again I guess one shouldn’t spoil a good story by printing the facts eh?

  2. So we Americans, companies and individuals alike, have the protection of the law in Britain or Canada or Australia, if we are oppressed or have our assets confiscated by the State – but lawful foreign investors in the US cannot have the same protection?

    This petty racism put up by unrepresentative groups who think it a good idea to steal someone else’s property and rights without good scientific or legal cause, just because they are “foreign”, “British” or “Canadian”. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would love to secure the international property of American companies such as Exxon, Chevron, were it not for the protections we have access to in places such as Britain, Canada, Australia or Russia.

    So what’s the problem Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club – why stop at “foreign”, – how about “black”, “polak” or “chink” to determine who has the protection of our laws and our Constitution?

    • A good point well made.

    • It’s pretty common to identify the nationality or base location of a company, for example when writing about Vail Resorts, one often refers to it as a Broomfield-based company. It does make it more interesting in this case that it’s a foreign company, but it’s not an overriding factor, since many large mining companies are multinational. If I were to do it over, I would probably downplay the “British” aspect.

      Seems to me like you’re playing up the nationality aspect.

      I don’t think this is about nationality – it’s about the fact that a private company is challenging the sovereignty of the American people over its own public lands near a cherished national icon. It’s about the fact that nearly all the uranium mining in the SW is highly speculative and that companies are using mining claims to inflate their balance sheets to leverage financing, regardless of whether they ever plan to mine.

      Several other legal challenges to the withdrawal have already been rejected based on the grounds that the executive does have
      authority to act in this way, so it also seems like a waste of time and a waste of money spent on more lawyering.

      As far as whether there is a potential environmental impact, I read a lot of the science when the withdrawal was first proposed and it seems inconclusive. Based in that, it seems better to be safe, rather than sorry and perhaps find areas to mine uranium that aren’t quite so near a national park.

      But maybe Vane’s lawyers can convince a court otherwise – we’ll see.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Bob – did you do any research at all on this subject before writing your article?

        If you did you would know that breccia pipes are a well know proven historical source of uranium (no speculation there); Vane is not mining at present, they are drilling to prove the resource (no leveraging up of balance sheets to obtain financing, but proving a resource, which is quite a different thing); if you access US Congressman Rob Bishop’s press release dated 24-May-2012 you will see that far from being a “safe is better than sorry” environmental issue, the Interior Department went to great lengths to prove the danger to the water resources from uranium mining but despite their herculean efforts completely failed to get a shred of evidence to support the ban; and the claim for compensation by Vane was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on 30 May 2013 owing to a legal technicality regarding the filing of the original complaint and the company has re-filed its claim (not quite a waste of money on more lawyering).

        The truth is often quite inconvenient isn’t it?

  3. Those of you here pimping for Vane are hoping We the People will forget one thing, one very big thing: it is not only the actual mining that can and does cause pollution, it is also the industrialization of the landscape when new roads are built in environmentally fragile areas.

    • What would you do if the ‘authorities’ said to you go ahead and build a house right here, it’s OK, we approve. So you go ahead and spend a load of money on builders, surveyors, lawyers, put in work on the foundations – then the ‘authorities’ come along and say, stop we’ve changed our minds, you can’t do that here any more, a couple of people along the road have belatedly decided that it would spoil their view, sorry about all that money you wasted, but tough luck, we aren’t going to reimburse you, even though it was as a consequence of our original decision?

      Well, Vane was building that house. So I’m not pimping for Vane, I’m pimping for fairness and justice. Or do ‘We the People’ think fairness and justice has no place in society anymore?

      • It is not as simple as “ruining a view”, especially when considering how dramatic of an impact mining at this site would be, for so many people on so many different levels. Red Butte, the site to be effected from mining, is sacred to Havasupai. There are numerous studies that show well contamination near mining sites, all across the states. These are indisputable.

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