PHOENIX - The U.S. District Court on Tuesday upheld a 20-year ban against uranium mining on 1 million square miles near the Grand Canyon known as the Arizona Strip.
The ruling by District Judge David Campbell dismissed civil lawsuits by several mining entities challenging the ban. It protects the scenic area from the possibility of 26 new mining operations and 700 exploration projects.
"This decision confirms what the American people already knew - that protection of this critical watershed from uranium mining is a no-brainer," said Katherine Davis, public lands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Grand Canyon gives us an unparalleled opportunity to explore and understand our cultural and ecological heritage and we have to protect that."
While environmental groups hailed the decision, Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson said he was disappointed that the judge denied motions of summary judgment.
Campbell acknowledged that the Department of Interior may not have had legitimate environmental justification to withdraw the mineral rich lands, but did have the authority to do so, Johnson said.
"Clearly, Congress needs to sit up and reassert their control of our federal lands," Johnson said in a statement on behalf of the Arizona-Utah Local Economic Coalition.
"The withdrawal authority is being abused at the expense of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah residents and workers," he said.
Uranium mining is a $29 billion resource for the region and local jobs and economic growth are at stake, Johnson said.
The Havasupai Nation has battled uranium mining for more than 20 years in the courts, claiming that the operation will desecrate sacred lands and contaminate water sources.
A study by the Department of Interior showed that new uranium mines and exploration projects would result in more than 1,300 acres of surface disturbance and 316 million gallons of water use. Under the ban, existing mines would have about one-tenth of the surface change and one-third of the water usage over a 20-year period.
If new uranium mining were allowed, uranium levels in some springs could rise to the twice the level of EPA standards and aquifers could be severely depleted, endangering public health and wildlife.
"The court can find no legal principle that prevents DOI from acting in the face of uncertainty," Campbell wrote in his Sept. 30 ruling. "Nor can the court conclude that the Secretary abused his discretion or acted arbitrarily, capriciously or in violation of law when he chose to err on the side of caution in protecting a national treasure - Grand Canyon National Park."