Grand Canyon uranium mining ban withstands another test

Federal judge once again rejects mining industry challenge to withdrawal

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Speculative uranium plays have raised the prospect of mining in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A moratorium on uranium mining in the greater Grand Canyon region withstood another test this week, as U.S. District Judge David Campbell denied a uranium industry motion to reconsider his previous ruling to let the temporary ban stand.

Mining interests could still go to a federal appeals court, but for now, the withdrawal enacted last year by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will stand.

“It’s another good day for the Grand Canyon, and for rivers, wildlife, and communities across the West,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, one the attorneys representing conservation groups and the Havasupai Tribe in the case.  “The court has now twice rejected the uranium industry’s attempt to cripple the Interior Department’s ability to temporarily protect lands from destructive mining.” Continue reading

Colorado: Roan Plateau drilling plan back in federal court

Fossil fuel industry frustrated by federal delays

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The BLM, conservation groups and the fossil fuel industry are grappling with a development plan for the Roan Plateau in northwest Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The fossil fuel industry continues to battle over energy development in court, most recently by asking a federal appeals court to overturn a previous lower court ruling that spurred the Bureau of Land Management to reconsider its plan for northwest Colorado’s Roan Plateau.

Conservation groups joined the battle in late April, filing their response to the latest legal challenge, which would “turn back the clock” to Bush-era energy development policies, according to Earthjustice, which is representing community and environmental groups in the case.

At issue is how many wells will be drilled atop the plateau, which is billed by conservation advocates to have high natural resource values. The fight dates back to a development plan approved by the BLM under the Bush administration. Continue reading

Colorado: Conservation group challenges BLM decision to ‘suspend’ Thompson Divide oil and gas leases

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Wrangling continues over oil and gas leasing in Colorado.

Appeal asks state BLM director to let leases expire

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates are challenging a decision by the Bureau of Land Management to extend the life of several oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide area of Colorado’s White River National Forest.

The leases have been unused for 10 years and were illegally sold to begin with, according to Earthjustice, which is filing the administrative appeal on behalf of Wilderness Workshop.

“Sometimes BLM needs to just say no to the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman. “If we can’t keep energy development out of a place like the Thompson Divide, what part of Colorado is safe? We can meet our energy needs in responsible fashion without destroying our most important public lands,” Freeman said. Continue reading

Environment: Roadless rule critics run out of time

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The 2001 national roadless rule has been upheld by yet another federal court.

Federal court rejects Alaska challenge

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A national roadless rule that protects watersheds, buffers wilderness areas against invasive plants and provides habitat for wildlife has withstood its final legal challenge from the state of Alaska.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week rejected the same worn-out arguments that critics have been repeating for a decade or more, affirming the legality of the rule and protecting tens of millions of acres of roadless forest lands from logging and road building.

The court dismissed the state’s lawsuit for being filed after the six-year statute of limitations. Conservation groups who helped galvanize a citizens’ campaign in the late 1990s to protect America’s last wild national forest lands breathed a sigh of relief after more than a decade of legal challenges. Continue reading

Court upholds ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon

Conservation groups hail partial victory; more legal arguments on tap

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Th North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal judge this week partly rebuffed the mining industry’s attempt to pursue speculative uranium claims in the Grand Canyon region, saying that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar acted within his authority when he ordered a temporary mining ban across more than 1 million acres.

The ban was adopted January 2012 to protect the Grand Canyon’s watersheds. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and development on old claims that lack “valid existing rights” to mine.

The National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, Northwest Mining Association and others last year filed four lawsuits challenging the withdrawal and the underlying federal authority to enact any withdrawals larger than 5,000 acres. The Havasupai tribe and conservation groups intervened to uphold both. Continue reading

Environment: New Florida water quality plan flawed

Measures don’t meet Clean Water Act requirements

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Florida’s Everglades are threatened by a new state water plan. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Watchdog grous are characterizing a proposed Florida water quality plan as a give-away to polluting industries, creating even more loopholes to spew sewage, manure, and fertilizer into Florida waters, according to watchdog groups who sued the state and federal government in 2008 for their failure to set pollution limits, as required by the Clean Water Act.

“We have record numbers of dead manatees washing up on southwest Florida right now, in the prime of our tourist season,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “Where is the leadership? This is an absolute sell out. This bogus plan gives deep-pocketed polluters even more loopholes. And what do we, the public, get? More gross, slimy algae in the water.”

Earthjustice said the plan was developed in a shady backroom deal without public input, and pointed out that a federal court has to review the plan under the terms of an earlier settlement agreement. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Yellowstone bison get more room to roam

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A bison grazes near a highway in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A long-running battle over Yellowstone bison was at least partly resolved this week, as a Montana judge upheld a state policy allowing the animals to roam outside Yellowstone National Park without facing harassment and death.

The state rules were challenged by ranchers opposed to allowing bison to graze in the Gardiner Basin, just north of the park, important habitat in the winter and early spring. Federal and state biologists decided last year to allow bison seasonal access until May 1 of each year, opening critical foraging lands when higher elevations in the park lack spring grasses for bison and other grazing animals.

“Today’s ruling represents a victory for all those who want to see wild bison as a living part of the Montana landscape,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who defended the bison policy in the case on behalf of the Bear Creek Council, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, and Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Yellowstone region’s bison herds are the descendants of the last wild bison in the American West, and today they stand as some of the last genetically pure bison in the world.  The court rejected the idea that the law requires slaughtering these magnificent animals whenever they cross the park boundary.”   Continue reading

Biodiversity: Northern spotted owl gets more protection

Northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFS.

Latest critical habitat designation reverses politically tainted Bush-era plan

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly four years after President Barack Obama took office, federal agencies are still trying to undo some of the environmental mischief from the Bush era. Last week, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 9 million acres of critical habitat for threatened northern spotted owls.

The designation, spread across federal lands in Washington, Oregon and Northern California, replaces a 2008 designation by the Bush administration that ignored years of scientific evidence showing that spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest needed more, not less, old-growth forest habitat protection.

The Bush-era critical habitat designation was based on a recovery plan for the owl that was widely criticized by the scientific community. Congressional hearings later showed that the plan was shaped by political interference designed to undermine the protective measures of the Northwest Forest Plan.

Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the 2008 plan, resulting in last week’s designation, which is a substantial increase from both previous designations. Continue reading

Colorado: Forest Service challenged anew over approval of a coal mine expansion in roadless area

Beaver ponds in the Sunset roadless area. Photo courtesy Earthjustice.

Showdown over West Elk coal mine could be a test for Colorado roadless rule

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A long-running battle over a coal mine expansion in a national forest roadless area continues, as conservation groups this week challenged U.S. Forest Service approval of a coal mine expansion 10 miles east of Paonia.

According to Earthjustice, the mine project could ultimately result in construction more than six miles of roads, along with 48 natural gas drilling pads within the Sunset roadless area, one of the areas exempted from a road-building ban under a newly adopted roadless rule for national forest lands in Colorado.

“The Sunset Roadless Area is real gem, a beautiful forest of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows, a home for elk and bear,” said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest environmental law firm representing the groups.  “This is a place the Forest Service should be protecting for all Coloradoans, not sacrificing to appease special interests.” Continue reading

Utah ‘phantom road’ claim gets appeals court hearing

The State of Utah and San Juan County are claiming that the stream bed of Salt Creek is a highway under a repealed federal law that was passed to enable settlement of the West. Photo courtesy Ted Zukoski. Click on the image to view a slideshow of Salt Creek.

Ecologically sensitive stream in Canyonlands National Park at issue in long-running battle over local rights-of-way claims

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A long-running battle over the interpretation of an obscure federal law may move one step closer to resolution this week, as the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in a case addressing state claims to a highway right-of-way in Salt Creek, an ecologically sensitive streambed in Canyonlands National Park.

The National Park Service closed the stream bed to vehicles in 2005, citing damage to natural resources, including crushed vegetation, water pollution and degradation of wildlife habitat. San Juan County and the State of Utah sued the Park Service, arguing that the Park could not close the streambed to jeeps because it was a county and state highway, based on a settlement-era law known as R.S. 2477. Continue reading

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