20-year Moratorium, Upheld by 9th Circuit Court Today, Protects Tribes, Water, Wildlife, Tourism
For Immediate Release, December 12, 2017
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— The Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups decried a House subcommittee hearing today where lawmakers considered lifting a 20-year ban on new uranium mining across 1 million acres of public lands near Grand Canyon National Park. The ban, instituted by the Department of the Interior in 2012, was upheld by a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision earlier today. It prevents further soil and water pollution from uranium mining and gives researchers time to study its risks to the Grand Canyon’s aquifers and springs.
The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, chaired by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), provided a forum for the National Mining Association to attack the uranium-mining ban that is supported by tribes, regional businesses and the public. The hearing comes days after President Trump ordered more than 2 million acres slashed from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who spearheaded the attacks on the national monuments, has called for lifting the Grand Canyon uranium-mining ban. The Trump administration also recommended rolling back the ban in a November U.S. Forest Service report.
“The Northern Arizona Mineral Withdrawal must remain in place,” said Havasupai tribal Vice Chairman Edmond Tilousi. “Opening the doors to uranium mining before we understand how it will affect our waters gambles with the very survival of the Havasupai people. We have always been the protectors of the Grand Canyon, and have faced new threats with every generation. My heart hurts knowing that these companies will stop at nothing to make a profit for themselves today, with complete disregard for the consequences for those of us left to live with their mess. These profiteers do not care if they destroy our waters. They do not care if the waste they make today poisons or kills our tribal members as it seeps into our springs. The 20-year ban and the studies it mandates are the only things protecting us. They need to continue until completion.”
The Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association have for years worked to protect the Grand Canyon region from uranium-mining impacts. They’ve intervened on the side of the government to defend against a uranium-industry lawsuit challenging the 2012 withdrawal. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision today upheld that ban, calling it a “cautious approach” and “risk-averse” to potentially permanent damage from uranium mining.
“The Department of the Interior’s decision to enact these critical protections was met with resounding support from a diverse array of stakeholders nationwide,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Given the potential for irreversible uranium contamination to Grand Canyon’s aquifers and springs, and the direct threat this poses to a critical source of life and identity of the Havasupai Tribe, it made perfect sense in 2012, and it makes perfect sense now.”
In 2007 more than 10,000 uranium-mining claims were staked on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon, raising concern among tribes, businesses and local governments. The ban followed an exhaustive environmental impact statement assessing uranium-mining risks. According to Interior’s study, new uranium mining could harm springs, wells and aquifers, including increasing levels of uranium beyond federal drinking-water standards, severely depleting aquifers, endangering public health and wildlife, and compromising the values of the tribes who consider the springs sacred.
Interior’s study showed that without a mining ban, 26 new uranium mines and 700 uranium exploration projects would be developed, resulting in more than 1,300 acres of surface disturbance and the consumption of 970 acre-feet of water. More than 500 abandoned uranium mines still pollute land and water on the Navajo Nation, which has banned uranium mining. Water in Horn Creek, in Grand Canyon National Park, exceeds federal uranium standards owing to pollution from the abandoned Orphan mine on the canyon’s south rim.
“Multinational uranium companies export processed uranium mined from our nation’s public lands,” said Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. “We are alarmed that this administration favors the interests of foreign investors at the risk of poisoning places like the Grand Canyon, while potentially adding to the more than $1 billion debt that U.S. taxpayers must pay for cleaning up the mess from our region’s last uranium boom.”
“There is every reason to keep this mining ban in place and no good reason to reverse it,” said Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter director. “In fact, public lands around Grand Canyon should be permanently protected from uranium mining and other destructive measures that threaten waters, wildlife, and tribal resources. These public lands are significant in their own right, plus protecting them helps to protect the watershed for Grand Canyon.”
The Grand Canyon is the most spectacular gorge in the world and a biodiversity hotspot that anchors the tourism economy of the Four Corners region. The canyon area is home to indigenous people, including the Havasupai, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2016 the greater Grand Canyon region attracted a record 6 million tourists and recreationists, and Grand Canyon National Park tourism alone contributed $904 million to local economies and supported nearly 9,800 jobs.
“We must uphold the current, commonsense plan to protect Grand Canyon National Park and vital tribal water sources,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona program manager for National Parks Conservation Association. “The purpose of the moratorium is to stop any risk to the limited underground water that feeds Grand Canyon’s important seeps, springs, and side creeks — and the entire water supply of the Havasupai people. Let’s stick with this prudent effort until we can be absolutely sure mining won’t pollute the aquifer.”
“Any effort to lift this crucial ban will meet fierce opposition,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s every reason to believe uranium mining will permanently damage Grand Canyon’s precious aquifers and springs. That’s an unacceptable risk, and it’s immoral of Congress and Trump to even consider it.”
Havasupai Tribe, Conservation Coalition Celebrate Key Win for Water, Wildlife, Sacred Lands
For Immediate Release, December 12, 2017
Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice (303) 996-9622 (w), (303) 641-3149 (c), firstname.lastname@example.org
Don Watahomigie, Havasupai Chairman, (928) 448-2731, email@example.com
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter (602) 999-5790, firstname.lastname@example.org
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 890-7515, email@example.com
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 300-2414 firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin Dahl, National Parks Conservation Association, (520) 603-6430, email@example.com
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— The Havasupai Tribe and a coalition of conservation groups praised today’s decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Department of the Interior’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims across 1 million acres of public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon.
The court ruled that the ban, adopted in 2012, complies with the Constitution and federal environmental laws, and that the protected area was not too large, as plaintiff mining companies had argued. The ban protects the aquifers and streams that feed the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon from toxic uranium-mining waste pollution and water depletion.
The Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity and National Parks Conservation Association intervened in the case in 2013. The groups and the Department of Justice won a 2014 decision by U.S. District Court in Arizona, which upheld Interior’s 2012 uranium mining withdrawal. Mining companies appealed the decision to the 9th Circuit.
Unfortunately the court also rejected a challenge to the Canyon Mine, a uranium mine located on the Kaibab National Forest six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. The court’s decision allows Energy Fuels Inc. to mine without initiating or completing formal tribal consultations and without updating an obsolete federal environmental review dating to 1986.
“The Havasupai people have been here since time immemorial. This place is who we are,” said Don Watahomigie, the Havasupai Tribal Chairman. “The Creator made us protectors of the Grand Canyon. The Havasupai Tribe is gratified to know that the court has recognized the validity of the mineral withdrawal and what we have always known — that this place, these waters and our people deserve protection. The lives of our children and the purity of our waters are not to be gambled with and are not for sale.”
“This is a great day for the Grand Canyon, for the Havasupai people who rely on its sacred waters, for the people who love this wonder of the natural world, and for the wildlife that call it home,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice.
In January 2012 then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued the 20-year ban that prohibits new mining claims and mine development on existing claims without valid permits. The mining industry claimed that the Interior Department’s exhaustive, 700-page evaluation of environmental impacts was inadequate. Interior’s study of the mining ban showed that without a withdrawal in place, 26 new uranium mines and 700 uranium exploration projects could be developed, resulting in more than 1,300 acres of surface disturbance and the consumption of 970 acre feet of water.
Under the 20-year ban, existing mine operations are projected to have about one-tenth of the surface impacts and one-third the water usage. According to Interior’s study, new uranium mining could have major impacts on springs, wells and aquifers, including increased levels of uranium beyond the Environmental Protection Agency’s drinking water standards and severely depleted groundwater, endangering public health and wildlife, and compromising the values of the tribes who consider the springs sacred.
“This decision rewards years of cooperation toward protecting the water, air, and people that mining near the Grand Canyon puts at risk,” said Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark. “History has shown us how uranium mining can go wrong on the Colorado Plateau, we’re glad for more time to make sure the same legacy isn’t also bestowed upon the Grand Canyon.”
Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation, and legislation to make the ban permanent. Dozens of new mines threaten to industrialize iconic and sacred natural areas, destroy wildlife habitat, and pollute and deplete aquifers. Scientists, tribal and local governments, and businesses have all voiced support for the protections enacted by Interior.
“Sierra Club applauds this decision to uphold the limits on mining on public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park and to protect the park and the greater Grand Canyon region from the hazards of uranium mining, which poses a threat to the people, lands, water, and wildlife of the region,” said Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter director. “We are disappointed that the court did not uphold the challenge to Canyon Mine, however, and we will continue to do all we can to ensure permanent protection of these lands.”
One of the great symbols of the American West, the Grand Canyon was first protected as a national monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908. The canyon is surrounded by millions of additional acres of public lands that include wilderness areas, two national monuments, lands designated to protect endangered species and cultural resources, and old-growth ponderosa pine forests. The canyon area is also home to indigenous people, including the Havasupai, Kaibab Band of Paiutes, Hualapai and Navajo tribes, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2016 the greater Grand Canyon region attracted over 6 million tourists and recreationists, and Grand Canyon tourism contributed $904 million to local economies and supported nearly 9,800 jobs.
“This victory is wonderful news for a region already riddled by decades of uranium industry pollution and plunder,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision is critical to protecting the Grand Canyon’s precious aquifers, biodiverse springs and surrounding public lands for future generations.”
“After an extensive review process and substantial public participation, the Department of the Interior’s decision to protect one of the world’s most enduring landscapes and the sustained health of indigenous communities that live within the watershed of the Grand Canyon was a strong and appropriate one,” said Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association. “The court’s action in upholding this ban is commendable.”
The uranium mining companies have 45 days to seek a rehearing by the three-judge panel or by the 9th Circuit sitting en banc. The companies also have 90 days from this decision, or from a denial of rehearing (whichever is later) to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review of the 9th Circuit Court decision. Such petitions are granted in only a tiny fraction of cases.
Download the decision here.
In the Phoenix New Times story, Canyon Mine Faces Accusations of Environmental Racism by Navajos, Sierra Club (March 21, 2017), the vice president for marketing and corporate development at Energy Fuels Nuclear (USA) Inc., who owns Canyon Mine, had a few interesting things to say. Unfortunately, he put forward no evidence behind his statements, and we have photos and documents to back up ours.
1.) Water being trucked from Canyon Mine has elevated levels of uranium, and possibly other toxic chemicals too. The Phoenix New Times article reported:
…a spokesman for Energy Fuels previously told the Arizona Daily Sun that the water being trucked through the Navajo Nation has three times the amount of dissolved uranium than is considered “safe” to drink. And in a November report to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the company noted that the water contains 30 times the recommended level of arsenic.
But now Curtis Moore, vice president for marketing and corporate development at Energy Fuels, says that the water is not contaminated. “The excess water we are managing is relatively clean, and contains only trace amounts of natural uranium,” he wrote in an e-mailed response.
“In fact, the water we are trucking offsite either meets – or comes very close to meeting – EPA drinking water standards for dissolved uranium.”
FACT: Energy Fuels Nuclear (USA) Inc. told the Arizona Daily Sun that the water contained 90 micrograms per liter, three times the drinking water “standard” of 30 micrograms per liter set by the EPA. This level of uranium contamination was confirmed in a conversation between Sierra Club and the Kaibab National Forest on March 17, 2017. This level is lower than the amount that Energy Fuels Nuclear (USA) Inc. reported to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality in its “General Aquifer Protection Permit Annual Report for 2016”, when they reported 130 micrograms per liter of uranium (over four times the drinking water standard) and 292 micrograms per liter of arsenic (over 29 times the drinking water standard for arsenic) in water taken from the shaft of Canyon Mine on November 9, 2016.
2.) Contaminated water is being sprayed in the air – and radioactive mist is drifting into the Kaibab National Forest.
Making matters even worse, the Sierra Club says, Energy Fuels is now spraying some of the water from the mine into the air in an attempt to get it to evaporate. Photos captured by Sierra Club and Haul No! volunteers appear to show radioactive mist drifting into the Kaibab National Forest, which surrounds the mine…
Curtis Moore of Energy Fuels disputed the environmental group’s claims.
“We are not blowing water into the forest, as the Sierra Club claims,” he wrote in his e-mailed response.
“We have employed some commonly utilized enhanced evaporation machines that creates a mist over the pond to speed evaporation rates, which we shutdown during high-wind days to avoid the potential of the mist of this relatively clean water from crossing our fence-line.”
FACT: Here’s a picture taken at Canyon Mine on March 12, 2017, outside the perimeter fence of Canyon Mine, on a day when the average wind speed was only 4mph at the nearby Grand Canyon Airport, with gusts of 20 to 30 mph.
Aaaaaand, here’s another one:
Sure looks to me like the toxic mist is hitting the forest…
3.) Trucks moving uranium-laced water through the Navajo and Ute Nations are mislabelled or poorly marked.
FACT: This photo shows a truck arriving at Canyon Mine’s front gate to pick up a load of water headed for the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, Utah. The placard says “1268” which is a marking indicating the truck is hauling petroleum products. Nothing indicates the presence of uranium in the truck’s contents.
Facts. Nothing but facts here.
Please let us know what you think.
August 4, 2016
An Open Letter to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission – Uranium Mines Do Threaten Wildlife
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission seems more interested in playing politics than in considering legitimate concerns facing wildlife and habitat. Its statement about uranium mining being a “non-existent threat” to condors is just wrong. No one disagrees with the fact that lead poisoning is the number one threat and number one killer of condors – that’s why we advocate for a ban on lead ammunition. However, contrary to what the Commission claimed in its recent media release, federal wildlife and land management experts have also long had concerns about the impacts of uranium mining on condors and other wildlife. Such effects include both the mining process and the associated hazardous materials.
In fact, concerns were raised as far back as 2002. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologists, tasked with ensuring the success of the condor’s recovery from near extinction, concluded abandoned uranium mines were a threat. In its five-year review of the condor reintroduction program, USFWS noted the following: “At the Orphan Mine in Grand Canyon National Park, condors have been perching on the tower above the mine shaft…and from there investigating the associated ground debris and structures. The area surrounding this abandoned uranium mine is designated a hazardous waste site. Condors have been observed with their heads thoroughly coated in mine residue, potentially exposing them to various environmental contaminants” (https://www.fws.gov/cno/es/calcondor/pdf_files/1st-5yr-reviewreport.pdf, p. 23). Concerns about condor exposure to these contaminants was part of the impetus for the National Park Service to begin cleaning up Orphan Mine.
The Commission itself has expressed concerns about effects of uranium mining on wildlife and habitat and has supported a permanent ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon. In a March 2008 letter to Senator McCain, it “express[es] concerns regarding the potential impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitats through proposed uranium development on lands in the proximity of Grand Canyon National Park.” The letter also notes that the Commission “opposes uranium development in the proximity of Grand Canyon National Park” and requests that Congress consider “permanent withdrawal” of the area from mining activities (Uranium Development near Grand Canyon National Park letter, March 17, 2008).
Game and Fish further recognized the potential negative impacts to wildlife from uranium mining in comments on the proposed mineral withdrawal. Game and Fish indicated that uranium mining activities “have the potential to affect wildlife directly by displacing wildlife due to mining activity, indirectly by fragmenting intact habitat, and adding toxic materials to the environment” (AZ Game and Fish email communication to BLM, March 5, 2010).
The Forest Service and other agencies also raised concerns in 2008 and included additional protective measures for an exploratory uranium drilling project: “If a condor shows up at a drill site, the Forest Service will be contacted immediately and any project-related activity likely to harm the condor will halt temporarily until the condor flies away or is driven away by permitted personnel (FWS or Peregrine Fund personnel). Project workers will be instructed to avoid interaction with condors” (Amendment for VANE Minerals Decision Memo, February 6, 2008).
The National Park Service also found that activities associated with uranium mining are a threat to wildlife. It stated, “Waste water associated with uranium mining operations contains high concentrations of a variety of metals and other chemicals associated with the mining process (Kaufman et al. 1976). These waste waters are usually stored in nearby evaporation ponds for remediation. The surface evaporation ponds will serve as an attractant and may represent a significant hazard to wildlife” (National Park Service Potential Impacts of Uranium Mining on Wildlife Resources, January 2010).
In consultation between the Bureau of Land Management and the USFWS related to the mineral withdrawal for one million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon, USFWS stated that the withdrawal would “remove potential threats” to imperiled wildlife. With respect to condors, specifically, the USFWS found that the withdrawal would “protect these species [condors and Mexican spotted owls] from mining-related effects associated with human disturbance, human interactions, and potential contamination of food or prey items” (Request for Concurrence for Northern Arizona Mineral Withdrawal, August 29, 2011).
Although the mineral withdrawal is in place for a portion of the lands included in the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, it is only a temporary withdrawal and is also being challenged by mining interests. National monument designation would eliminate future uranium mining, thus providing long-term protection for condors and other wildlife related to the exposure to uranium and other toxins associated with uranium mining, including exposure via the waste water. The monument would provide protection for landscape-scale habitat blocks and key wildlife corridors, as well, which is yet another reason the Game and Fish opposition to the proposed national monument is incongruent with its mission. The monument would not, as Game and Fish claims, affect hunting, fishing, or other outdoor recreation opportunities.
Perhaps the key question here is not whether uranium mines can hurt wildlife, including condors. It seems clear that they can. The key question is why is Arizona Game and Fish no longer concerned about the impacts of uranium mining on wildlife? Why does it not support protection of wildlife habitat? And why is it supporting mines instead of monuments? Game and Fish seems to have lost touch with its mission when it comes to northern Arizona’s public lands. It should get back to wildlife conservation and stop the political grandstanding.
Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter
For more information on uranium mining impacts, please see this 2007 report from the AZ Game and Fish Department here.
Glen Canyon Dam Experimental Flood: Success or Failure?
Did the Feds aim low so that success could be called? Is this a band-aid on a trauma victim? Or should we celebrate? It depends who you ask.
Arizona Republic: Feds’ Grand Canyon Flood a Success
Standard-Examiner: Grand Canyon Flooding had Mixed Results
Living Rivers News: Controlled Flood in Grand Canyon a Dud
“Nobody asked me,” says the pikeminnow.