The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the National Mining Association (NMA) filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court in Arizona February 27, 2012, seeking to reverse the Obama administration’s withdrawal of approximately 1 million acres of federal land in the Arizona Strip from uranium mining for 20 years. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the ban on new hardrock mining claims on land surrounding the Grand Canyon on January 9 (E&MJ, February 2012, p. 10). The land is not within the Grand Canyon National Park or the buffer zone protecting the national park.

Subsequently, on March 6, the Northwest Mining Association, represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, also filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration opposing the Arizona land withdrawals. “Secretary Salazar’s decision is particularly outrageous because one of his own agencies, the U.S. Geological Survey, estimates the withdrawn lands contain uranium that, if mined to capacity, would generate electricity to power Los Angeles for 154 years,” William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation said.

The NMA/NEI lawsuit argues that Salazar “lacks legal authority to make withdrawals of public lands exceeding 5,000 acres,” that the land withdrawal is an “arbitrary agency action” under the Administrative Procedure Act, and that it fails to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to take a “hard look” at the withdrawal’s consequences that the U.S. Supreme Court required in a unanimous 1989 decision. The lawsuit also notes the Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984 states, “Congress does not intend that the designation of wilderness areas in the State of Arizona lead to the creation of protective perimeters or buffer zones around each wilderness area.”

Richard Myers, NEI vice president for policy development, planning and supplier programs, said, “The proposed land withdrawal is not justified by information in the Interior Department’s environmental assessment. The proposed land withdrawal is designed to protect against situations and circumstances that no longer exist. It is a mistake to judge today’s uranium mining activities by practices and standards from 50 to 60 years ago. Yet that, apparently, is what the Interior Department has done in its final environmental impact statement.”

Contrary to the assertions by the administration, today’s environmental laws ensure that ore extraction and production at uranium mines have minimal environmental impact on the surrounding land, water and wildlife, Myers said.

“Uranium resources in the Arizona Strip represent some of the highest-grade ores located in the United States. These uranium resources are higher grade than 85% of the world’s uranium resources, according to the Interior Department’s final environmental impact statement. These resources represent as much as 375 million lb of uranium, approximately 40% of U.S. reserves and more than seven times current U.S. annual demand.

“The world’s nuclear power plants currently consume more uranium than is produced. Current worldwide uranium demand is approximately 180 million lb/y, but worldwide production is approximately 140 million lb/y. The balance comes from secondary sources of supply, including inventories held by the U.S. and Russian governments. U.S. uranium production in 2010 was approximately 4 million lb,” the NEI statement said.