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During his visit to the Grand Canyon in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt remarked upon the unique and rare beauty of the park:

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder…absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.  I want to ask you to do one thing…in the interest of the country to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is…I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel, or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon.  Leave it as it is…What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American…should see.”

One of our most beloved national monuments, the Grand Canyon, will continue to awe and inspire its visitors, at least for another 20 years.  On September 30th, Judge David Campbell, from the District Court of Arizona, ruled in favor of the Department of Interior (DOI), and upheld a 20 year moratorium on uranium mining in the area surround the Grand Canyon.

The Withdrawal

Over five years ago, then Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, feared the negative consequences increased mining around the Grand Canyon would have on its nearby residents, wildlife, and landscape.  Using his authority under the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), he published a notice of intent to withdraw this land from new mining activity.  Following two years of research and impact analyses, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concluded, that new mining activity would harm the Grand Canyon watershed.  As a result, in January 2012, the DOI withdrew over 1 million acres of land from uranium and hardrock mining for 20 years.

Salazar v. Yount

Two years later, the case reached the U.S.  Federal District Court in Arizona. The American Exploration and Mining Association, the Nuclear Energy Institute, National Mining Association, the Arizona/Utah Local Economic “Coalition”, and Quaterra Resources Inc.  sued the DOI over its 2012 decision.  The companies claimed the department’s 20 year moratorium violated NEPA.

The Coalition claimed, that the BLM scientists conducted little research and relied on weak evidence when drafting their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  Courts, however, do not like to stand in the shoes of scientists- that’s why they went to law school.  The EIS recognized that groundwater contamination resulting from uranium mining would be catastrophic.  Consequently, the Court agreed with the BLM.

The Coalition further claimed that BLM violated NEPA by not consulting with local and tribal governments.  Yet, the record shows that the BLM did consult with Coconino and Mohave counties, as well as Kane, San Juan, and Washington counties in Utah.  Moreover, they reviewed over 1 million public comments, and held 10 public hearings or agency meetings, three of which, with Coalition members themselves!  The Court dismissed these claims too.   

A National Treasure

Although, more than a century old, President Roosevelt’s sentiment is still shared by the majority of Americans, as demonstrated by this Court case’s ruling.  Today the Grand Canyon is the second most visited park in the U.S.  Last year alone, it welcomed over 273,630,895 visitors.  Banning hardrock mining and protecting this national treasure for future generations, is more than environmentally friendly, it is our patriotic duty and national responsibility.     

Post by Blina Kruja