Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Grand Canyon Trust v. Williams

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20069
Nos. 13-08045, (D. Ariz., 04/07/2015) (Campbell, J.)

A district court upheld a U.S. Forest Service decision allowing a uranium mine to renew operations near the Grand Canyon National Park. In January 2012, DOI withdrew approximately 633,547 acres of public lands and 360,002 acres of National Forest System lands for up to 20 years from location and entry under the Mining Law of 1872. The withdrawal removed the land from open exploration and foreclosed the establishment of new mining claims in the future, but it did not extinguish mining rights that already existed on those lands, including the mine at issue here. Rather, the withdrawal was subject to valid existing rights, which meant that existing mines could continue to operate. Prior to approving the mine's renewed operations, the Forest Service conducted a valid existing rights determination, even though it was not legally required to do so. Environmental groups and a Native American tribe, who sought to enjoin the mining operations, argued that the rights determination was a major federal action and that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to perform an EIS in connection with the determination. But the determination, which was not legally required, did not alter or amend the mining plan that had been subject to full NEPA review in 1986. Because there was no new major federal action, the issuance of the valid existing rights determination did not trigger NEPA or require a new EIS. The court also rejected claims that the Forest Service violated the NHPA. Again, because there is no modification to the mining plan and no requirement of a valid existing rights determination, there is no new "undertaking" subject to NHPA, and the Forest Service's decision to conduct a reduced consultation process rather than a full review under NHPA §106(b) was not arbitrary and capricious.