Yount v. Salazar

Environmental Impact Assessment
Precautionary Principle

Yount v. Salazar, Case No. CV11-8171 PCT-DGC (D. Ariz. 2014)
U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior exercised discretion to “withdraw” almost one million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon for a period of twenty years.  Withdrawal prevents entry into the land for the purposes of claiming new mineral rights (it does not bar existing mining projects).  The withdrawn lands contained uranium deposits, some of which had been mined in the past but were abandoned when uranium prices fell.  With increasing prices, there was renewed interest in initiating mining activities.  See pp. 2-6. 

A coalition of pro-mining interests challenged the withdrawal decision, claiming (among many other things) that the Secretary violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it failed to consult with local governments, and the coalition also questioned the adequacy of the environmental impact statement (EIS) prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the purposes of analyzing the withdrawal decision.  

The district court reviewed the consultation procedures and rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the process was incomplete.  The court noted that several counties were offered the opportunity to consult with the BLM and that criticisms of the proposal lodged by local governments were properly considered during the process.  See pp. 16-18.

The plaintiffs also alleged that the BLM proceeded too cautiously and over emphasized the risk of groundwater contamination in the EIS when the agency had very little information to support its conclusions.   The court disagreed, stating that the BLM had authority to “err on the side of caution in protecting a national treasure. . . .” See p. 44.

The court proceeded to reject the plaintiffs’ numerous statutory and constitutional arguments against the withdrawal decision.