WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Nuclear Energy Institute, together with the National Mining Association (NMA), today filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal District Court in Arizona seeking to reverse the Obama administration’s withdrawal of approximately 1 million acres of federal land in the Arizona Strip for 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 Jan. 9. The land is not within the Grand Canyon National Park or the buffer zone protecting the national park.
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 the “hard look” at the withdrawal’s consequences that the U.S. Supreme Court required in a unanimous 1989 decision. The lawsuit also notes that the Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984 states that, “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 of the administration’s action, “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 percent of the world’s uranium resources, according to the Interior Department’s final environmental impact statement. These resources represent as much as 375 million pounds of uranium, approximately 40 percent 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 pounds per year, but worldwide production is approximately 140 million pounds per year. 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 pounds.