Thursday, February 17, 2011

Northern Arizona uranium mining draft EIS released

The Interior Dept. announced release tomorrow of the Draft EIS for hard rock (read uranium) mining in Northern Arizona. This triggers a 45 day public comment period on the 4 alternatives proposed. There is no preferred alternative recommended. But that hasn't stopped newspaper editors from tossing around a variety of headlines that range from "Interior plan bans mining claims near Grand Canyon" (Business Week), to "Demand for uranium threatens Grand Canyon biodiversity" (Guardian), to "Feds outline options for mining near Grand Canyon" (most common headline after the initial flurry).

Alternative A is for no action, leaving the area open to mining. The other 3 alternatives all call for a 20-year withdrawal but for differing amounts of land - 1 million, 650,000, or 300,000 acres.

Because of the confusing press responses to the story, the full press release from DOI follows below. Note that three public meetings on the DEIS will be held in Arizona during March 7-9, with another set for Salt Lake City. AZGS is a cooperating agency in the EIS process and got a review copy earlier.

Interior Invites Public Input on Future Hardrock Mineral Development in Northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon

WASHINGTON -- The Department of the Interior has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and is seeking public comment on a proposal to withdraw lands in the Grand Canyon watershed that would affect uranium and other hardrock mineral development in that area.

The public is invited to provide input on four alternatives in the Draft EIS, including a no-action (no withdrawal) alternative, to help determine whether Federal lands should be withdrawn from location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights.

“The current two-year segregation from new mining claims in the Arizona Strip near the Grand Canyon is allowing us to gather the best science available, engage the public, and make an informed decision about whether lands in the watershed should be withdrawn from new mining claims,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “With the input of local communities, tribes, stakeholders, and scientists, the Bureau of Land Management has developed four alternatives on which we encourage people to provide their feedback and views. This process will help make a decision that recognizes the need for wise development of our energy resources, the importance of healthy lands and waters, and the voices of local communities, tribes, states, and stakeholders.”

The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Draft EIS, which will be available for public review and comment on February 18, 2011, was prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), acting as lead agency in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and other state and local agencies and in consultation with seven American Indian tribes.

Public input on the Draft EIS will be used to inform a final decision made by the Secretary of the Interior on the proposed withdrawal. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, a notice published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Federal Register initiates a 45-day public comment period.

The Draft EIS discusses the potential impacts that each of four alternatives would have on the human environment and natural and cultural resources. The Draft EIS does not identify a preferred alternative.

· Alternative A is the No Action Alternative, under which no withdrawal would occur and hardrock mineral exploration and mining would continue throughout the study area in accordance with existing BLM and Forest Service regulations and land use plans.

· Alternative B is to withdraw about 1 million acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years subject to valid existing rights. The land is in three parcels: two are north of the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM Arizona Strip and Kaibab National Forest lands; and one is south of the Grand Canyon also in the Kaibab National Forest. The authority for the withdrawal comes from Section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. If implemented, this withdrawal would not prevent any other development under laws regulating mineral leasing, geothermal leasing, mineral materials or public lands.

· Alternative C is to withdraw a reduced area of about 650,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with resources that could be adversely affected by mineral exploration and mining. The resources potentially affected are cultural, hydrologic, recreational, visual, and biologic.

· Alternative D is to withdraw a further reduced area of about 300,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with the highest concentration of resources that could adversely be affected by mineral exploration and mining.

In July 2009, Secretary Salazar proposed the withdrawal of nearly one million acres of federal lands in the Arizona Strip (BLM) and Kaibab National Forest (USFS) from location and entry under the Mining Law of 1872 for up to 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. Notice of the Secretary’s proposal was published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2009, which resulted in the segregation of those lands from location and entry under the Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights, for up to two years.

A decision to withdraw the subject lands from location and entry under the Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights, would prohibit the filing of new mining claims in an area that has previously been open to location. If the land is withdrawn, previously-approved mining operations could continue under existing surface use authorizations and new operations on mining claims that pre-date the proposed withdrawal on July 21, 2009, could be developed only after a determination that the mining claims were valid as of that date.

Public meetings are being scheduled to take place from March 7 to 10, 2011, in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Fredonia, Arizona, and in Salt Lake City, Utah. Comments must be in writing and either mailed to Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip District, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790, or sent as an email to

Information can be found at or by calling (435) 688-3200. Public Meetings will be held in all of the following locations from 6:00pm to 8:30pm:

March 7, 2011 National Training Center, 9828 North 31st Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85051. The National Training Center (NTC), a federal building, requires non-government personnel to show drivers license, state identification or passport.

March 8, 2011 High Country Conference Center, Agassiz & Fremont Rooms, 201 West Bulter Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.

March 9, 2011 Fredonia High School, Media Center, 221 East Hortt Street, Fredonia, AZ 86022.

March 10, 2011 Homewood Suites, Santa Fe and Rio Grande Conference Rooms, 423 West 300 South Salt Lake City, UT 84101.

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