Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Uranium mining vote expected after Labor Day

The New York Times quotes Arizona congressmen Raul Grijalva and Ed Pastor as saying they expect the U.S. House to take up the issue of uranium mining on federal lands in northern Arizona after Labor Day, when the House reconvenes after their summer recess. There is a rider in the Interior and EPA appropriations bill that would overturn the Secretary of Interior's proposed 20 ban on mining in the region.

The debate over mining outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park has become increasingly politicized since the Secretary made his decision before comments had been received on the BLM's draft EIS [right, map of the withdrawn areas. Credit, BLM].

On a phone call I had with BLM Deputy Director Mike Poole and other Interior officials the day of the decision, they were forthright in stating that neither they nor the Secretary had read much of the substantive comments from cooperating agencies in the EIS before making the decision. They also admitted that while they have been to the Park, neither they nor the Secretary have been to the lands proposed for withdrawal. They referred to 300,000 mostly pre-printed postcards received, as a basis for opposing mining in the area.

Subsequently, Rep. Jeff Flake introduced a rider into the Interior Approps bill in committee, that would overturn the Secretary's ban. That is winding its way through the process and has become the focus of the battle with a strongly partisan division.

The BLM EIS process continues, and AZGS is a cooperating agency. But the pessimist in me questions how much effort to put into a process where the outcomes are driven by politics and not the science.

[correction 8-12-11: I mistakenly stated my conference call was with Bob Abbey, Director of BLM. In fact, Bob was not on the call at all. I apologize for the error.]


  1. When the Draft EIS when it was first published I "discovered" that the BLM was going to take a vote as part of the EIS process when they solicited comments for the EIS. I called out the BLM on this issue and they got all sorts of put out that I would even suggest that the EIS decision making would be based on a vote via the public comments submitted.

    Here is the email exchange:

    Does anyone know how common it is for the responsible agency for an EIS to
    hold a vote while soliciting comments to their Draft EIS as to which
    Alternative shall be the Preferred Alternative in the Final EIS. This is
    what the BLM has done in their Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Draft
    EIS. The BLM has chosen not to select a Preferred Alternative in the Draft EIS.
    Holding a vote seems to be contradictory to using sound scientific and and
    analytical processes to find the best alternative.

    Gregory Yount Manager The NAU Project, LLC



    Page 2 of the Dear Reader letter in the beginning of the Draft EIS, as well
    as any other information we have provided concerning the kinds of comments
    we are looking for, make it clear we are NOT seeking a vote, but rather
    seek comments that are "substantive". Both in the Dear Reader Letter and
    in Newsletter #2, (provided on our web page at we say
    explicitly that:

    "In order to be considered and to merit a written response, comments must
    be in writing (paper or electronic format),substantive, and timely.
    Substantive comments do one or more of the following:
    question, with reasonable basis (emphasis mine), the accuracy of
    information in the DEIS.
    question, with reasonable basis, the adequacy of, methodology for, or
    assumptions used for the environmental analysis.
    present valid new information relevant to the analysis.
    present reasonable alternatives other than those analyzed in the DEIS.
    cause changes or revisions in one or more of the alternatives."

    Despite what you read into the fact that the EIS doesn't have a preferred
    alternative, these are the kinds of comments we are seeking. The reason
    there is no Preferred Alternative is that the Secretary of Interior (who is
    the decision maker for this project, not BLM or any of the other Federal
    agencies involved ) is sincerely interested in hearing the substantive
    participation and comment provided by all perspectives during this public
    comment period.

    We appreciate your involvement and if you have a substantive comment to
    make I encourage you do so at

    Chris Horyza
    Planning and Environmental Coordinator
    BLM, Arizona State Office

    From Scott Florence (BLM)

    Chris is absolutely correct. The public comment process never has and never will be a voting process.

    It seems that no one thought to clue in the Secretary of the Interior and his staff on how an EIS was suppose to be conducted. A VOTE was held and it seems like a post card was how you cast your vote.

    Perhaps I should have sent in a post card instead of doing three weeks of intense study of the DEIS and writting over 100 pages of comments.

  2. Sue Keeney4:32 PM

    I don't envy the professional employees of the BLM and USGS. Their valuable input is ignored by their directors who, in order to keep their jobs, choose to support the idealogy of Salazar and the Obama administration.