Judge upholds mining 'time-out' at Grand Canyon

Radiation sign on a trail near a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon

flickr, Al_HikesAZ

We celebrated a huge success last year when the Interior Department granted a moratorium on mining on lands around the Grand Canyon. Now it's time to celebrate again.

A federal judge in Arizona has upheld the Interior Department's 2012 decision to ban uranium mining on public lands around Grand Canyon National Park.

Following the 2012 decision, the mining industry had sued the federal government. Mining companies contended that the authority to withdrawal, or set aside, certain lands from harmful development was unconstitutional.

The judge's decision protects environmentally sensitive and culturally important lands in the greater Grand Canyon area -- a great win for the Grand Canyon and for conservationists, Native American tribes and the agencies who manage these lands.

Video: A look at mining and the Grand Canyon

Video by: EcoFlight and Grand Canyon Trust

The judge's decision prevents the following from happening to sensitive Grand Canyon lands:

  • Road building
  • Drilling
  • Truck traffic
  • Uranium seeping into water supplies for 30,000 people
  • Contamination of water sources used by wildlife


In 2012,  after great urging from tribes, The Wilderness Society and other environmental groups, the Interior Department announced a moratorium on mining at the Grand Canyon. This meant that 1 million acres of land adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park would be off limits to uranium mining for 20 years.

As we wrote last January, the withdrawal of mining claims in the area will allow the region to prosper environmentally, but also economically:

By industrializing the Grand Canyon region and risking permanent pollution of its soil and water resources, uranium mining would also threaten the Southwest’s robust tourism economy — for which Grand Canyon National Park is the primary economic engine.

The outdoor recreation business in Arizona annually supports 82,000 jobs, generates almost $350 million in state tax revenue, and stimulates about $5 billion in retail sales and services. Rafting companies, outfitters, gear manufacturers, hotels and restaurants all benefit tremendously from the Grand Canyon’s unpolluted water, air and vistas.

Since the 2012 Interior Department time-out on mining at the Grand Canyon, Mining companies have not easily let go of their hold on the region.  

The continued threat of mining in the Grand Canyon

Some members of Congress tried to push legislation last Congress to override the Interior Department decision. While that bill did not get a vote, it would have opened up this area to uranium mining and all of the consequences associated with it.

While the mining industry will continue to work to open up this area, this decision will only keep the momentum going for sound environmental decisions on some of our most sensitive lands. We can also rest assured that the important authority to make these types of relatively swift decisions for other threatened wild lands is secure for now. The Interior Department should be commended for standing by its decision to protect the area around the Grand Canyon and we hope to see this area permanently protected from such threats in the near future. 

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