Court halts uranium exploration
After a day-long hearing on Friday, April 4, a federal judge issued an injunction against VANE Minerals and the Kaibab National Forest, halting uranium exploration on public lands within a few miles of Grand Canyon National Park.
"This order stops uranium exploration on the banks of a national treasure," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the parties behind the suit. "The Forest Service had allowed drilling to begin while the case was pending, so the order comes as a major relief. We're elated."
In December, the Kaibab National Forest approved exploratory uranium drilling by VANE Minerals, a British firm, at up to 39 locations across seven project sites just south of the Grand Canyon.
The approval was granted using a "categorical exclusion," the least rigorous public and environmental review available to the agency under the National Environmental Policy Act.
In March, environmental groups sued the Forest Service, demanding a more rigorous analysis be conducted. The suit focuses on the Forest Service's failure to fully consider the controversy and cumulative impacts attending all uranium exploration slated for the area. It cites National Environmental Policy Act, Appeals Reform Act, and Administrative Procedures Act violations.
"The Grand Canyon is too important for the Forest Service to give short shrift to the possible and significant negative impacts of uranium mining exploration," said Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "The Forest Service should take a hard look at the impacts and the public should have an opportunity to review and comment on this mining exploration. We are pleased that the judge recognized the importance of protecting the Canyon and the possible uranium claims have been staked on public lands surrounding Grand Canyon in recent years. VANE's project is the first of five major exploration projects slated for the area. The Forest Service has also been in discussions with Denison Corporation about opening of the Canyon uranium mine in the same area.
While the suit was pending, the Forest Service and VANE Minerals began uranium exploration drilling at three project sites. That drilling is now on hold.