KINGMAN - The U.S. Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management may be facing a possible lawsuit over the withdrawal of more than one million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims.
A Chino Valley man, Gregory Yount, who has two uranium mining claims in the area, filed a complaint and a request for an injunction in the U.S. District Court in Prescott on Nov. 1 to stop the departments from withdrawing any federal lands in the area from mining claims until they answer his complaint and a court has ruled on it.
Yount states in his complaint that the draft and final environmental impact statement prepared on the issue by the BLM are flawed, that information provided to the departments and comments from the public were ignored, that the departments violated the National Environmental Protection Act by not including a supplemental report to the impact statement that included new information provided to the department, and that Salazar had already made up his mind on the situation and the BLM wrote an impact statement supporting that decision.
A spokesman from the Washington, D.C. office of the BLM said the department does not comment on possible pending litigation.
In July 2009, Salazar announced that the departments were withdrawing nearly 1 million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims for two years to study the effects mining would have on the area. The departments had received a number of claim requests because of an increase in the price of uranium. The area is known for its high quality of uranium ore, especially in the Arizona Strip in northern Mohave County.
A draft impact statement was released in February. At that time, Yount said he and several mining and energy organizations submitted more than 400 pages worth of comments citing errors, omission, new information and a lack of scientific rigor in the statement to the BLM.
In one case, the BLM underestimated the amount of uranium in the area by as much as 500 to 600 percent, Yount said.
According to the impact statement, the BLM believes there are only 45 breccia pipes containing more than 33,000 tons of ore in the area. Breccia pipes are geological formations that contain the uranium ore.
Yount said according to information provided to the BLM from Quaterra Resources, the area could have more than 110 economically viable breccia pipes that could produce more than 165,000 tons of ore.
The draft statement also did not take into consideration the loss in mining fees to the federal government nor the loss of thousands of dollars in exploration costs some people, such as Yount, have invested in the area.
Yount said he has already spent $30,000 to $40,000 in permit fees and exploration costs on his two claims.
He estimates that it could cost as much as $15 million to open a mine in the area and that at $80 to $100 a pound a company could make, after all of the expenses were paid, a net profit of between $50 million and $70 million.
Of course, that all depends on the quality and quantity of the ore and the current price for the ore, Yount said.
He also estimated that each mine would employ about 30 to 40 workers and about 20 managers.
He also pointed out that while the draft impact statement takes into account the possible green house gas emissions created by mining in the area, it does not take into account how much the use of uranium fuel used in nuclear reactors will offset those emissions.
The impact statements simply say the government is unable to determine how or where the uranium ore will be used, therefore, the department cannot determine if it will offset some of the green house gas emissions caused by the mining process.
According to Yount's complaint, the department needs to include this calculation into the impact statements in order to provide context so that the public can determine the best use of the land.
Yount also points out that there is no calculation as to how mining in the area would add to the already naturally occurring erosion and leaching of uranium and other minerals from exposed breccia pipes in the area.
He also claims that the departments did not take into consideration the BLM's resource management plan for the area or the Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984, which states that the area should remain open to mining and grazing.
All of these are required by NEPA in order to determine what is the best use of the land.
"They were playing fast and loose with the analyses. It's junk," he said.
Yount also said the departments violated the NEPA when they failed to discuss any inconsistencies between the recommended plan and state or local government plans for the area. Gov. Jan Brewer, the Arizona Legislature, Mohave County, the city of Fredonia and several counties in southern Utah have all opposed withdrawing the land from use.
He also claims that the BLM purposely wrote and shaped the information provided in the impact statements to support Salazar's decision to remove the land from mining use, and that the departments have refused to publish a supplemental report to the impact statements that would correct the NEPA violations.
Yount wants the courts to declare that Salazar and the departments have violated NEPA and prevent Salazar from withdrawing the land from mining use until he answers Yount's claims in court, retracts the current impact statements and issues a supplemental impact statement that corrects the NEPA violations and pay for his court and attorney fees.
However, Yount is running against the clock, he filed his complaint on Nov. 1. The public comment period on the final impact statement ends Nov. 27. Salazar and the two departments have 60 days to respond to his complaint.