Mine operators win Grand Canyon case

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Conservationists and tribes challenging a uranium mine north of Grand Canyon were rejected by a federal appeals court Monday, but their argument concerning mining plans that are decades old is expected to resurface as companies look to resume similar operations.

Environmentalists and Native American groups have sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, saying the agency relied on an out-of-date and inadequate environmental analysis in allowing the Arizona 1 Mine to operate.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, rejected arguments that a gravel permit and a revised reclamation bond were major federal actions that would trigger new environmental reviews.

The court also ruled that a temporary closure did not make the mine’s 1988 operation plan invalid.

Previous mining operations outside the park ceased about 20 years ago as uranium prices plummeted. The Arizona 1 mine was the first to resume in late 2009. It produces 300 tons of uranium ore daily.

The mine began operating before the Interior Department approved a 20-year ban on new hard-rock mining claims on more than 1 million acres near Grand Canyon, an area known to be rich in high-grade uranium ore.

About 3,000 mining claims already staked in the area aren’t affected, although federal officials expect fewer than a dozen mines to be developed under those claims. Anyone holding those claims would have to prove they have sufficient quantity and quality of uranium ore, for example, before any mining could occur.