By Curtis Spicer for Cronkite News
Arizona officials continue to support a federal court battle to allow new uranium mining operations on a million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon.
In 2012, the federal government put a stop to any new mines in the area. Officials said they wanted to protect the “natural, cultural and social resources in the Grand Canyon watershed,” according to the order.
But Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said new mines could bring much-needed jobs to the area, and he must fight for local businesses. So Arizona, along with several other states, joined the National Mining Association in its efforts to overturn the federal government’s order.
The case is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Brnovich, speaking to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, said the order that initially stopped new mining operations is an example of federal overreach.
The mining association, which represents more than 250 companies, wants the court to strike down the Northern Arizona Withdrawal, an order Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed that put a hold on new mining claims in the area. It still allows pre-existing mines to operate for the next 20 years.
The U.S. District Court for Arizona upheld the order in 2014, and the mining association appealed.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes filed an amicus brief last November on behalf of Utah, Montana, Nevada and Arizona in support of the mining association in National Mining Association v. Jewell.
But environmental advocates and tribal officials said any change to the current rules could irrevocably damage the land.
Energy Fuels, the company that operates four uranium mines in the Arizona Strip, estimates the newly reopened Canyon Mine, six miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, holds 1.63 million pounds of uranium recently valued at about $65 per pound, according to projections from the Fission Uranium Corp.
The Bureau of Land Management predicted that if the government does not pass new regulations, about 728 uranium exploration projects, 30 uranium mines, 317,505 ore haul trips and 22.4 miles of new roads and power lines with about 1,321 acres of disturbed landscape would occur in the Grand Canyon region over the next 20 years.
The Havasupai tribe, whose boundaries border the Grand Canyon, and several environmental groups support the Department of the Interior and the Grand Canyon Trust in their fight against the mining interests.
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