Groups ask judge to reconsider decision upholding Grand Canyon mining limits

Posted: Apr 11, 2013

Written by

Manuel Quinones, Greenwire
Grand Canyon

Groups opposing the Obama administration's ban on new mining claims on 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon are asking an Arizona federal judge to reconsider his decision last month upholding large-scale land withdrawals.

Arizona U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell ruled unconstitutional a section of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) allowing for congressional resolution of disapproval for 5,000-acre-plus withdrawals.

But Campbell said the ruling didn't invalidate large-scale mining or drilling limits promulgated under President Obama or previous administrations (Greenwire, March 21). Environmental groups feared such an outcome.

But several groups this month, including the National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute, filed documents formally asking Campbell to reconsider his decision.

They argue that Campbell misunderstood Congress' intent when approving FLPMA and giving the administration land withdrawal powers. Such a misunderstanding, attorneys for the groups wrote, "taints" the ruling.

"Plaintiffs have argued that 'strong evidence' exists supporting that Congress would not have enacted an Executive large-tract withdrawal authority absent the attached legislative veto," they wrote in their request.

They added, "While FLPMA indeed grants withdrawal authority to the Executive, the delegation itself was not FLPMA's purpose. Its express purpose was rather to 'delineate the extent to which the Executive' may exercise that authority."

In his ruling, Campbell argued that Congress did not necessarily make land withdrawals contingent on the ability of Congress to overrule the administration through resolution.

"Congress specifically stated that '[i]f any provision of the Act or the application thereof is held invalid," he wrote, "the remainder of the Act and application thereof shall not be affected thereby.'"

But attorneys for NMA and NEI wrote, "Other provisions of FLPMA confirm that Congress would not have conferred large-tract withdrawal authority on the Executive without the legislative veto."

Campbell has yet to reply or rule on the industry groups' motion for reconsideration. Because the case is ongoing, industry groups have to wait before appealing.

Campbell still has to decide on issues dealing with whether Interior followed the National Environmental Policy Act when banning new claims for 20 years to limit an expected rush in uranium mining.

A new report by consulting firm GlobalData said there will be a surge in nuclear power generation, particularly in Asian countries, which will boost the demand for uranium.

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