Two industry leaders in uranium mining are challenging the Interior Department's authority to place a 20-year mining ban on 1 million acres of public land next to the Grand Canyon.
The American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) and the National Mining Association submitted a request to the Supreme Court last Friday, asking for a review of the Obama-era blanket mining ban that prohibits uranium mining on public lands next to the national monument.
In the AEMA's petition to the court, the group brought into question whether Congress, when establishing the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976, intended to give Interior and its secretary "unfettered power to make large-tract withdrawals."
In 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar instituted the ban on the lands in part because the neighboring Havasupai Tribe relies on groundwater from the area to survive.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the mining groups in December, upholding the ban on mining
"The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) reserves to Congress the power to take certain land management actions, such as making or revoking permanent withdrawals of large tracts from mineral extraction," the court wrote in its decision.
When the FLPMA was instituted the law included Congress's ability to place a legislative veto on large land tract withdrawals. That veto tool was later ruled unconstitutional, but a court said the law could still function without it.
The mining industry's latest appeal questions whether the Interior secretary's authority to withdraw land should have been affected by that decision and if it changes the intent of Congress's authority.
"Did Congress intend to grant the Secretary the authority to make large-tract withdrawals without the congressional oversight provided by the legislative veto embedded in the delegation of authority?" the petition read.
The Havasupai Tribe, as well as multiple environmental groups, intervened in the lawsuit to defend the Interior Department's authority to withdraw the land from mining use.
“This is an attack on the Grand Canyon region, which is bad enough,” Ted Zukoski, an Earthjustice attorney representing the Havasupai Tribe, and conservation groups said of the Supreme Court appeal in a statement.
“It’s also a long-shot attempt to kneecap the Interior Department’s authority to ever again protect large public landscapes from the damage and pollution hardrock mining can have on recreation, cultural resources, wildlife, clean air and water and the communities that rely on those values.”