By William Perry Pendley
DENVER - A 117-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members on March 6 filed a lawsuit in Arizona federal district court against the Obama Administration for its lock-up of a million acres of federal land in northern Arizona (Northwest Mining Association v. Salazar, et al., No. 3:12cv8042, D. Ariz. [Prescott]).
The Northwest Mining Association (NWMA) of Spokane, Wash., asserts in its complaint that U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's January 2012 order withdrawing the land from entry under the General Mineral Law, which will block access to hundreds of millions of pounds of the highest-grade uranium ore in the country, violates a host of federal laws. The NWMA asserts that the order, which includes lands managed by both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in the "Arizona Strip," violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Forest Management Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
"Secretary Salazar's decision is particularly outrageous because one of his own agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey, estimates that the withdrawn lands contain uranium that, if mined to capacity, would generate electricity to power Los Angeles for 154 years," said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF). MSLF represents the NWMA.
The Arizona Strip, which lies north of the Colorado River in northern Arizona, is bordered to the south by the northern rim of Grand Canyon National Park. In the 1984 Arizona Wilderness Act, Congress designated 250,000 acres of federal land on or near the Arizona Strip as wilderness and released 600,000 acres of land in the same area for multiple use, including uranium mining, as a result of an historic compromise among environmental groups, uranium mining interests, the livestock industry, and others.
In July 2009, Secretary Salazar proposed to withdraw from operation of the General Mining Law 633,547 acres of BLM lands and 360,002 acres of National Forest lands in the Arizona Strip for up to 20 years to "protect the Grand Canyon watershed from adverse effects of locatable hardrock mineral exploration and mining."
In February 2011, the BLM issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the proposed withdrawal in response to which the NWMA filed comments noting that uranium mining is not a threat to the environment of the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River watershed, given the scores of state and federal laws enacted to protect those resources.
In June 2011, Secretary Salazar issued an emergency withdrawal of the lands; in October 2011, the BLM issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement; and, in January 2012, Secretary Salazar issued his order.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge David G. Campbell.
Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver.
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