Enviros, tribe win right to intervene in Grand Canyon withdrawal litigation

Posted: Apr 24, 2012

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Grand Canyon

Environmental groups and Arizona's Havasupai Tribe have won the right to intervene in at least one federal court case against the Obama administration's new mining limits around Grand Canyon National Park.

At issue is Arizona uranium prospector Gregory Yount's complaint against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for withdrawing more than 1 million acres around the Canyon from new mining claims. His lawsuit is one of four industry-led complaints against the decision.

Arizona U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Martone ruled Friday that the tribe, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and National Parks Conservation Association could be part of the case. He agreed with the groups in saying that federal lawyers may not fully represent their interests.

"Their interests are focused on environmental and cultural preservation, while the government manages the land at issue for multiple uses, including mining," Martone wrote in his opinion.

"Proposed intervenors and defendants have often been on opposing sides of litigation regarding mining in this area and other environmental issues," he said.

Yount, who is representing himself in the case, said the groups did not really have a stake in the proceedings. In court filings, he said they wanted the same thing as the administration -- to keep the ban on new claims in place.

"The only issue at hand is whether the Northern Arizona Withdrawal was properly conducted under [the National Environmental Policy Act]," he wrote. "Movant Intervenor's environmental and cultural interests have nothing to do with whether the NAW is legal, which is the sole and only issue to be decided by the Court."

He added, "Applicants have fabricated and exaggerated their claims to the point that it is difficult to separate their actual protectable interests from blatant misinformation campaigns."

Other cases involve the National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute and Northwest Mining Association. Industry attorneys have moved to consolidate the cases.

Government attorneys have called it "premature" to consolidate the cases, especially when there are open motions to dismiss the Yount complaint.

Still, because eventual consolidation is a likely scenario, Martone's ruling effectively opens the door for environmental groups to be part of the broader litigation.

"Salazar's decision to protect the Grand Canyon from more uranium mining pollution was the right one," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "We welcome the opportunity to defend it in court."


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