The Canyon uranium mine is located in the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property within the Kaibab National Forest. The Grand Canyon sits six miles to the north. Photo: Bruce Gordon / Ecoflight
Environment | Law | National | Politics

Havasupai Tribe sees mixed victory in litigation to protect Grand Canyon from uranium




The Havasupai Tribe and environmental groups saw a mixed victory as they seek to protect the Grand Canyon in Arizona from uranium mining.

In one decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an Obama-era decision to ban new uranium mines near Grand Canyon, the tribe's homeland. But a second ruling allows an existing mine to stay put.

“The Havasupai people have been here since time immemorial. This place is who we are,” Chairman Don Watahomigie said in a press release on Tuesday. “The Creator made us protectors of the Grand Canyon. The Havasupai Tribe is gratified to know that the court has recognized the validity of the mineral withdrawal and what we have always known—that this place, these waters and our people deserve protection. The lives of our children and the purity of our waters are not to be gambled with and are not for sale.”

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: Grand Canyon Uranium Mining - 9th Circuit Court of Appeals - Havaspai Tribe v. Heather Provencio and National Mining Association v. Ryan Zinke

The decisions came on the same day of a hearing on Capitol Hill in which Republicans questioned why the new mining ban was in place and invited a representative of the National Mining Association, which fought the ban in court. Carletta Tilousi, a tribal council member, testified at the invitation of Democrats.

"Our way of life is being threatened by mining companies that stake uranium claims on federal lands located in the watershed right above Supai," Tilousi said in her written testimony.

Last month, the U.S. Forest Service -- at the request of President Donald Trump -- issued a report on "energy independence and economic growth." The report suggested that the ban could be rescinded but did not provide much detail on the issue.

“Special interests who refuse to leave the Grand Canyon alone need to sit down and read this ruling carefully,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources , said in a press release. “Our laws allow the secretary of the Interior to protect our environmental quality, protect tribal heritage, and protect special places like the Grand Canyon even if the National Mining Association doesn’t like it.”

House Committee on Natural Resources on YouTube: Oversight Hearing, "Examining Consequences of America's Growing Dependence on Foreign Minerals"

The Obama administration adopted the ban in 2012. It applies to more than 1 million acres of federal land near Grand Canyon National Park.

“The Northern Arizona Mineral Withdrawal must remain in place,” Vice Chairman Edmond Tilousi said in a another press release. “Opening the doors to uranium mining before we understand how it will affect our waters gambles with the very survival of the Havasupai people."

The ban does not affect operations of the Canyon Mine, which is located on Forest Service land about 6 miles south of Grand Canyon. The area falls within the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property, a designation granted in 2010 at the insistence of the Havasupai and other tribes.

"That withdrawal did not extinguish 'valid existing rights,'" Judge Frederic Block wrote in one of the decisions issued Tuesday. The Forest Service determined that Energy Fuels Resources, the owner of the Canyon Mine, had "valid existing rights," the decision stated.

Read More on the Story:
Court upholds Obama-era ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon (The Arizona Republic December 12, 2017)
Ninth Circuit Upholds Interior Department’s Grand Canyon Mining Ban (KNAU December 12, 2017)
Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Ban Upheld, But Nearby Mine Allowed to Open (Courthouse News Service December 12, 2017)
Court upholds Obama-era ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon (K5 News December 12, 2017)
Court upholds uranium mining ban around Grand Canyon but allows nearby mine (The Washington Post December 12, 2017)
Court upholds Obama-era ban on new Grand Canyon uranium mines (The Guardian December 12, 2017)

9th Circuit Court of Appeals Decisions:
Havasupai Tribe v. Heather Provencio (December 12, 2017)
National Mining Association v. Ryan Zinke (December 12, 2017)

Related Stories:
Carletta Tilousi: Havasupai Tribe threatened by uranium development (June 26, 2017)
Havasupai Tribe files lawsuit to protect water rights in Arizona (December 15, 2016)
Arizona tribes back creation of new monument at Grand Canyon (October 14, 2015)
Native Sun News: Walk hits uranium mining sites on reservations (April 17, 2015)