Court Rebuffs Miners: Withdrawal Law Constitutional

Court Rebuffs Miners: Withdrawal Law Constitutional

By William Perry Pendley

DENVER - An Arizona federal district court on March 20 rejected arguments by a 117-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members that had argued that a federal law, which was used to lock-up a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona, is unconstitutional.

The Northwest Mining Association (NWMA) of Spokane, Wash., claimed in a March 2012 complaint and subsequent briefing and argument that Interior Secretary Salazar's January 2012 order withdrawing the land from entry under the General Mineral Law and blocking access to hundreds of millions of pounds of the highest-grade uranium ore in the nation violates federal laws. The NWMA argued that the authority used by the secretary would not have been enacted without the legislative veto provision and the latter provision is unconstitutional. The district court held the veto provision is severable. The case concerns the "Arizona Strip," land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

"We are very disappointed by the court's ruling," said William Perry Pendley, president of Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents the NWMA. "Congress sought to restrain the ability of the Executive to implement massive withdrawals; the statute itself is clear."

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.

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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