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Uranium Company Calls Us “Egregious”? Sierra Club Offers Defensible Facts.

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.

Overspray of radioactively contaminated water drifts into the Kaibab National Forest near Canyon Mine. Klee Benally photo.

Overspray of radioactively contaminated water drifts into the Kaibab National Forest near Canyon Mine. Klee Benally photo.

 

Aaaaaand, here’s another one:

Overspray of radioactively contaminated water drifts into the Kaibab National Forest near Canyon Mine. Klee Benally photo.

Overspray of radioactively contaminated water drifts into the Kaibab National Forest near Canyon Mine. Klee Benally photo.

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.

A truck arrives at Canyon Mine to pick up radioactively contaminated water to haul to the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, UT. The placard is labelled for petroleum products. Ryan Beam photo.

A truck arrives at Canyon Mine to pick up radioactively contaminated water to haul to the White Mesa uranium mill in Blanding, UT. The placard is labelled for petroleum products. Ryan Beam photo.

 

Facts.  Nothing but facts here.

Please let us know what you think.

 

 

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U.S. Court of Appeals to Hear Back-to-Back Cases on Uranium Mining Threats to the Grand Canyon Region, Thursday Dec. 15 in San Francisco

 

IMG_9242

Uranium mining on the plateaus surrounding Grand Canyon threatens creeks below its rims.  Uranium contamination from the Orphan Mine has rendered Horn Creek, between the popular Bright Angel and Hermit Trails, undrinkable.

Contacts:

Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice (303) 641-3149tzukoski@earthjustice.org

Neil Levine, Grand Canyon Trust (720) 339-0800nlevine@grandcanyontrust.org

Richard W. Hughes, Rothstein Donatelli LLP, (505) 988-8004rwhughes@rothsteinlaw.com

Eric Bontrager, National Parks Conservation Association (202) 770.7419ebontrager@npca.org

Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter (602) 999-5790sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org

 

San Francisco — The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco will hear oral arguments Thursday, December 15 on two key cases involving uranium mining on public lands near Grand Canyon National Park.

In the first case, Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio, the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club challenge the United States Forest Service’s decision to allow Energy Fuels Resources to reopen the Canyon uranium mine, which was initially approved in the 1980s and had been closed since 1992. The federal agency permitted this “zombie” mine to reopen without analyzing the mine’s environmental impacts in light of changed circumstances in the intervening quarter-century.

The Canyon Mine is located on the Kaibab National Forest, a few miles south of Grand Canyon National Park, and is within a one million acre area that was withdrawn from mining in 2012 due to concerns about uranium mining’s environmental and cultural threats to the Grand Canyon watershed.

2012 11 21 Canyon Mine aerial 2

Canyon Mine was approved with no new environmental review after being closed for a quarter of a century.

Richard Hughes of Rothstein Donatelli LLP will argue on behalf of the Havasupai Tribe; Neil Levine of Grand Canyon Trust will argue on behalf of conservation groups.

The second case, National Mining Association v. Jewell, involves mining and uranium industries’ challenges to the Interior Department’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.

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Northern Arizona students protest uranium mining near Grand Canyon.

The ban was requested in 2008 by Arizona’s governor, local governments, American Indian tribes, recreationists, and conservation groups concerned about a uranium mining boom’s impact on groundwater, cultural resources, and the iconic landscapes surrounding the Grand Canyon. It was issued by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona upheld the ban in two rulings, one in 2013 (decision here) and the other in 2014 (decision here), and the mining interests appealed.

The nonprofit law firm, Earthjustice, will represent the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and National Parks Conservation Association in defending the ban. Department of Justice attorneys will also defend the Interior Department’s decision.

 


What: Arguments in Havasupai Tribe v. Provencio and National Mining Association v. Jewell before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

Where: Courtroom 4, Room 260

               James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse

               95 Seventh St.

             San Francisco, Calif.

When: Approximately 9:30 a.m. PST, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016

Streaming: http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/live_oral_arguments.php.


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Praise for Rep. Kirkpatrick’s Endorsement of Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Thursday, September 30, 2016

Contact: Celia Barotz, cbarotz@gmail.com, (928) 853-7295

Photo of House Rock Valley from Kaibab Plateau: trees, canyon

FLAGSTAFF, AZ — Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick (AZ-1) today announced her support of the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, signing on as a co-sponsor to the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act. Kirkpatrick joins a long list of those speaking out for a monument designation, including more than 20 area Tribal Nations, more than 400 local businesses, and local and national leaders.

“I applaud Rep. Kirkpatrick for standing with many people in Arizona and throughout the country who want to safeguard these lands from new uranium mines,” said Celia Barotz, Vice-Mayor of Flagstaff.

The proposal enjoys strong support in the state, with 4 in 5 Arizonans supporting protecting the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon as a national monument– support reflected nationwide with 82% of people in favor of the proposal. Across the country more than half a million people have joined the call for action by President Obama.

“What’s good for the environment is also good for our economy. People travel from around the world to see an untouched Grand Canyon, not uranium mining operations,” said Ash Patel, president and CEO of Southwest Hospitality Management, LLC and past chairman of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.  “Protecting Grand Canyon for future generations is dear to my heart. The step Rep. Kirkpatrick took today brings us one step closer to ensuring this natural beauty stays in its more rare form.”

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Say NO to Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon!

Speak up at Uranium Mine Public Hearings

Canyon Mine_ Sarah Ponticello photo

Canyon uranium mine.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) is issuing new air quality permits to three uranium mines within 20 miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Two mines are preparing to open for the first time: Canyon Mine south of Grand Canyon and EZ Mine north of Grand Canyon. One mine is on “standby” and not currently producing ore: Arizona 1 Mine north of Grand Canyon. The Pinenut Mine, also north of Grand Canyon, is preparing for “reclamation” and is not being required to have an air quality permit.

ATTEND A PUBLIC HEARING:

Monday, August 29 6pm

Fredonia High School Gymnasium

221 E. Hortt St.

Fredonia

Tuesday, August 30 1pm-3pm

Moenkopi Legacy Inn & Suites
Tsotsvalki Conference Center
Tunatya Room #3
Junction of Hwy 160 and Hwy 264 in Tuba City 

Tuesday, August 30 6 pm

Sinagua Middle School Auditorium Mini A

3950 E. Butler Ave.

Flagstaff

SUBMIT A WRITTEN COMMENT:

Written comments are due August 30. More information and link to submit comments at https://www.azdeq.gov/PN/EnergyFuelsResources

 

Here are some talking points to use when preparing your comments. Choose points you feel confortable talking about, and personalize with your own reasons for opposing these mines. If you have questions or want help preparing for the hearing, contact Alicyn at alicyn.gitlin@sierraclub.org or (928) 774-6514.

  • Deny these permits. These mines are all located in Grand Canyon’s watershed and threaten the water, soil, and air of the Grand Canyon ecoregion.
  • It is ADEQ’s responsibility to protect the air and water resources of this state, and to enforce the Clean Air Act and protect the citizens from pollution.
  • Uranium dust is most dangerous when ingested or inhaled. Once inside the human body, it can damage the lungs, kidneys, bones, or cause birth defects. Trucks will only be covered with tarps and can spread dust along roadways. They can also pick up contamination from the ground at the mine and shed it as they travel.

    IMG_5837

    Northern Arizona University students protest a mine approved before they were born and shuttered until the present day.  Students demanded a public approval process that included them.  Their demands were denied by the Forest Service.

  • Ore trucks should be completely sealed – not just covered with a secure tarp.
  • 10-12 trucks per day will move through Valle, Williams, Flagstaff, Cameron, Tuba City, and much of the Navajo Nation on their way to a mill in Blanding, UT; then, empty trucks will return along the same path. Tell ADEQ how the risks associated with these mines affects your ability to enjoy your property and to feel safe on your community’s roadways and public lands. Tell them about your fear of inhaling dust or receiving a dose of radiation while sharing the roads with these vehicles. Make your testimony personal.
  • Contamination was found around the closed and reclaimed Pigeon and Hermit mines north of Grand Canyon, and soils near roads were also contaminated. Roads near the 1979 Church Rock, NM uranium mining disaster showed contamination near haul roads. There must be dust sampling along all haul roads, and communities should be prepared with emergency response plans in case of an accident causing an ore spill.
  • Uranium and arsenic have been consistently detected at elevated levels in the soils surrounding previously mined areas in northern Arizona.
  • Red Butte, adjacent to Canyon Mine, is a Traditional Cultural Property that is significant to the Havasupai, Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, and Hualapai tribes.
  • The Plan of Operations for Canyon Mine is over 30 years old and should be revised before air permits for it are issued.

    CANYON MINE 1

    10-12 trucks per day will travel from Canyon Mine, 6 miles south of Grand Canyon, through Williams, Flagtaff, Cameron, Tuba City, and much of the Navajo Nation on their way to a mill in Blanding, Utah.

  • The EZ Mine has had no federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, or National Historic Preservation Act. ADEQ should wait for these processes to be complete and before issuing an air permit.
  • Require a permit for and monitoring of the Pinenut Mine (Permit #62876) until all radioactive material has been removed and no contamination or radiation can be detected for at least a year.
  • The permittee, Energy Fuels, is responsible for monitoring dust and emissions, and self-reporting emissions that exceed legal limits. They will also self report deviations from permit requirements. An independent third party should be responsible for monitoring and reporting problems.
  • The amount of water required to suppress dust will be large in comparison to the amount of groundwater available in the region. That groundwater is important to maintain vital seeps and springs that humans and wildlife depend on.

    2012 11 21 Canyon Mine aerial 1

    Canyon Mine.

  • Radon emissions (radon-222) limitations will be calculated as a function of the number of pounds of material processed, instead of having a hard limit on the amount of radon released. ADEQ should limit the total amount of radon that the mine is allowed to release per hour. Ore processing should not be allowed to occur at a rate that causes emissions to exceed the limit.
  • Soil and radiation monitoring outside the fence will be 100 feet from the fence. Sampling should also occur closer to the fence to catch problems before they spread that far.
  • Soil sampling will only happen once per year. It should happen at least quarterly. Gamma radiation will be monitored quarterly. Outside independent monitors should perform these activities.
  • We know that soil contamination has occurred near other areas where ore and mined rock have been able to stand at uranium mines. ADEQ shouldn’t wait until contamination is found before ordering the mine to implement measures to protect the ore piles. As a condition of this permit, the mine should have to: construct wind barriers, storage silos, or a three-sided walled enclosures to protect ore piles; or, piles should be covered with tarp, plastic, or other material that is regularly checked for tears and maintained as necessary to prevent holes and abrasions.

Related:

State of Arizona Asked to Reject Permit Renewals for Uranium Mines Near Grand Canyon National Park http://www.sierraclub.org/arizona/blog/2016/08/state-arizona-asked-reject-permit-renewals-for-uranium-mines-near-grand-canyon

State of Arizona Asked to Reject Permit Renewals for Uranium Mines Near Grand Canyon National Park

For Immediate Release, August 15, 2016

Contact:

Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 890-7515, rclark@grandcanyontrust.org

Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790, sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org

Katie Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, (801) 560-2414, kdavis@biologicaldiversity.org

2012 11 21 Canyon Mine aerial 2

Aerial view of Canyon Mine, 6 miles south of Grand Canyon National Park

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Conservation groups today asked the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to deny air permits for three uranium mines near Grand Canyon and to continue monitoring a mine that is no longer active. All of these mines are located within watersheds (surface and ground) that drain directly into Grand Canyon National Park and threaten water, air and other important resources of the greater Grand Canyon ecoregion, including soil, wildlife, sacred Native American sites and the health of people who are exposed to the heavy metals and radiation associated with these mines.

Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed comments with ADEQ outlining ongoing concerns with the four uranium mines. The groups noted that in 2010, they, Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor and hundreds of citizens objected to issuing air permits for these mines because of unacceptable risks to residents and visitors to the Grand Canyon region. ADEQ has yet to address the substantive issues that were raised.

IMG_5860

Protestors ask for an end to uranium mining that risks contaminating groundwater near Grand Canyon.

Earlier this year, ADEQ suspended the permit renewal process after increased uranium levels were found in the soil near Pinenut Mine, north of Grand Canyon. Soil tests indicated that the uranium levels were four times higher than the normal background levels

“Once again we see the cumulative evidence of uranium contamination,” said Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. “When will the Grand Canyon State stop issuing permits to pollute our air and water?”

“For more than a half-century, uranium mining has permanently polluted our land, air and water. Its deadly legacy is well documented and yet state and federal agencies are still permitting new mines,” said Sandy Bahr with Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Given the proximity of these mines to Grand Canyon and the history of contamination, ADEQ should give these mines the utmost scrutiny and reject these permits.”

“Uranium mining on the Colorado Plateau unleashed an unending environmental disaster that has permanently scarred the landscape and local communities,” said Katie Davis with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It is unconscionable that ADEQ would continue to sacrifice our natural heritage and the health of our fellow citizens by granting these permits.”

Background

In 2012 the Obama administration issued a “mineral withdrawal” prohibiting new mining claims and the development of claims lacking valid existing rights across 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Despite public protests and legal challenges from local American Indian tribes and conservation groups, federal agencies allowed several uranium mines established prior to the withdrawal, including the Canyon, AZ1, and Pinenut mines, to resume operations. All the mines are operated by Energy Fuels Resources, Inc., a company with a history of regulatory violations.

The Canyon Mine is located on the Kaibab National Forest, six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. It is currently operating and has obtained federal permits, which are being challenged in federal court. The AZ1 and EZ mines are both located north of Grand Canyon on Bureau of Land Management lands. Operations at AZ1 are currently suspended. EZ mine is not yet operational and has not been permitted at the federal level. Though currently subject to reclamation activities, the Pinenut Mine site, located north of Grand Canyon on BLM lands, remains contaminated and continues to be a source of radioactive dust pollution.

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Learn about how you can weigh in on ADEQ’s uranium mine permits: http://www.azdeq.gov/PN/EnergyFuelsResources

Read our comments on the uranium mine permits: http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/sites/default/files/resources/gc_ADEQ_comments_8_15_16.pdf

An Open Letter to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission – Uranium Mines Do Threaten Wildlife

August 4, 2016

An Open Letter to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission – Uranium Mines Do Threaten Wildlife

mine rig

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).

condorThe 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.

Sincerely,

Sandy Bahr

Chapter Director

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.

Havasupai Tribe, Conservation Groups Challenge Uranium Mine Threatening Grand Canyon

HAVASUPAI TRIBE
GRAND CANYON TRUST
CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

SIERRA CLUB

For Immediate Release, March 7, 2013

Contact: Don Watahomigie, Chairman, Havasupai Tribe (928) 448-2731 or (928) 660-0023,htchair@havasupai-nsn.gov
Matthew Putesoy, Vice Chairman, Havasupai Tribe, (928) 448-2731mattputesoy@yahoo.com
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust (928) 890-7515rclark@grandcanyontrust.org
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity (928) 310-6713,tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club (602) 999-5790sandy.bahr@sierraclub.org

Havasupai Tribe, Conservation Groups Challenge Uranium Mine Threatening Grand Canyon

Forest Service OKs Uranium Mining Without Tribal Consultation or
Update to 27-year-old Environmental Review

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— The Havasupai tribe and three conservation groups today sued the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to allow Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. to begin operating a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park without initiating or completing formal tribal consultations and without updating an outdated 1986 federal environmental review. The Canyon Mine threatens cultural values, wildlife and endangered species and increases the risk of soil pollution and pollution and depletion of groundwater feeding springs and wells in and near Grand Canyon. The lawsuit alleges violations of environmental, mining, public land and historic preservation laws.

CanyonUraniumMine_BruceGordon_Ecoflight

The “Canyon” uranium mine, seen here in the foreground, with Grand Canyon National Park six miles to its north. Photo by Bruce Gordon, Ecoflight.

“We regret that the Forest Service is not protecting our sacred site in the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property from destruction by uranium mining,” said Don Watahomigie, chairman of the Havasupai tribe. “The Havasupai are returning to the federal courts to protect our people, our religion and our water.”

The mine is located within the boundaries of the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property, which the Forest Service designated in 2010 for its critical religious and cultural importance to several tribes, especially Havasupai. As a “traditional cultural property,” Red Butte is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The lawsuit alleges that the Forest Service violated the National Historic Preservation Act by failing to undertake any process, as required by the Act, to consult with interested tribes to determine how the adverse impacts of the mine on Red Butte could be avoided or mitigated prior to approving mining.

“The Forest Service should be protecting the Grand Canyon instead of shielding the uranium industry’s dangerous plans from public, tribal, environmental and scientific scrutiny,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Sacrificing water, culture and wildlife for the uranium industry was a bad idea in 1986, doing so now while ignoring 27 years of new information is absurd.”

The mine falls within the 1-million-acre “mineral withdrawal” approved by the Obama administration in January 2012 to protect Grand Canyon’s watershed from new uranium mining impacts. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and mine development on old claims lacking “valid existing rights” to mine. In April 2012, the Forest Service made a determination that there were “valid existing rights” for the Canyon mine, and in June it issued a report trying to explain its decision to allow the mine to open without updating the 27-year-old environmental review.

“After 27 years, the Forest Service is still ignoring the significant and harmful impacts of this proposed uranium mine, so near Grand Canyon and Red Butte, and in the heart of an area that provides important wildlife habitat,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “The agency should be a steward of these lands and their resources, not a broker for the uranium mining industry.”

The lawsuit also alleges that the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act for failing to conduct a “supplemental environmental impact statement” to analyze changes in the planned mining and new science and circumstances that have arisen since the mine’s 1986 environmental impact statement. Those include the 2010 designation of the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property, reintroduction of the endangered California condor, and formal and informal authorizations. Scientific studies published since 1986 demonstrate the potential for rapid aquifer recharge and connectivity between perched and deep aquifers and regional springs and creeks.

“Failure to consider new, comprehensive groundwater studies done during the 1990s for the region south of Grand Canyon is unconscionable,” said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust. “Why would the Forest Service intentionally ignore information that could prevent permanent harm to springs, which are the sole source of water for Havasupai people and lifeblood for Grand Canyon plants, animals and hikers?”

Plaintiffs in today’s suit include the Havasupai Tribe, Grand Canyon Trust, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club. The suit seeks injunctive relief ceasing all mine operations and enjoining the Forest Service from authorizing or allowing any further mining related activities at the Canyon Mine site pending compliance with the law.

To view a copy of today’s complaint, click here.

Background
The Canyon Mine is located on the Kaibab National Forest six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. The mine’s original approval in 1986 was the subject of protests and lawsuits by the Havasupai tribe and others objecting to potential uranium mining impacts on regional groundwater, springs, creeks, ecosystems and cultural values associated with Red Butte. Above-ground infrastructure was built in the early 1990s but a crash in uranium prices caused the mine’s closure in 1992 before the shaft or ore bodies could be excavated. Pre-mining exploratory drilling drained groundwater beneath the mine site, eliminating an estimated 1.3 million gallons per year from the region’s springs that are fed by groundwater. A 2010 U.S. Geological Survey report noted that past samples of groundwater beneath the mine exhibited dissolved uranium concentrations in excess of EPA drinking water standards. Groundwater threatened by the mine feeds municipal wells and seeps and springs in Grand Canyon, including Havasu Springs and Havasu Creek. Aquifer Protection Permits issued for the mine by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality do not require monitoring of deep aquifers and do not include remediation plans or bonding to correct deep aquifer contamination. Originally owned by Energy Fuels Nuclear, the mine was purchased by Denison Mines in 1997 and by Energy Fuels Resources Inc., which currently operates the mine, in 2012.

Colorado River Protection Opportunity!

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Support healthy flows in the Colorado River! The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group will have a rare meeting in FLAGSTAFF on August 29-30. (They usually meet in Phoenix.) Please come speak.

What is the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group?  – A team of Grand Canyon and Colorado River “stakeholders”, representing interests in conservation, water delivery, power generation, recreation, and government. They make recommendations to the Secretary of the Interior on how to operate Glen Canyon Dam.

Why should you care?

1) Water managers need to hear that the public wants a healthy Colorado River ecosystem prioritized above all else! Healthy flows aim to protect beaches, native vegetation, fish, and the entire food web. The public rarely shows up to these meetings, and the conservation stakeholders need our support!

2) Right now, there is a process to formulate a new management plan for Glen Canyon Dam. The new plan, called the Long Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP), will guide dam operations for 20 years. Be positive and supportive of the effort to create a plan, and say that you want Grand Canyon/Colorado River protection prioritized above all else.

You can link to Sierra Club’s LTEMP talking points here, or view Grand Canyon Trust’s here.  

When/Where???

Meeting will be held on August 29-30 at the
 Radisson Woodlands Hotel,
1175 West Route 66,
Flagstaff. See the Agenda for topics to be discussed. The public is invited to give comments at 5:15 on Wednesday and 1:15 on Thursday. **We’re thinking the best time to get a bunch of people there would be Wednesday at 5:15.

 For a full list of this meeting’s topics and times, go to, http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/amp/amwg/mtgs/12aug29/index.html. Under “Pre-Meeting Information”, click on Agenda.

Learn more about AMWG at http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/amp/background.html

You don’t have to say much (but you can). Just introduce yourself. Tell them that you care about the river, and you hope they’ll manage the dam for natural resources, for the health of the Colorado River, to restore Grand Canyon, etc… however you want to say it. That’s all you have to do. If you want, tell a personal story, get more scientific, quote from policy documents, recite poetry, whatever feels right. The important thing is that you care about the river enough to be there.

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