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National Mining Association v. Zinke

877 F.3d 845 (2017)

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National Mining Association v. Zinke

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

877 F.3d 845 (2017)

Facts

Citing concerns about the environmental impact of uranium mining, the Secretary of the Interior (the secretary) (defendant) temporarily withdrew more than one million acres of public lands near Grand Canyon National Park from the operation of the Mining Law of 1872 to prevent uranium mining on the lands. In its record of decision (ROD), the Department of the Interior (the department) listed several rationales for the withdrawal, including the protection of water resources in the Grand Canyon watershed and the Colorado River from possible contamination. The secretary’s decision was based on a United States Geological Survey report and the department’s final environmental-impact statement (EIS), both of which concluded that there was evidence that additional uranium mining could present a risk of contamination. Some analysts within the agency disagreed, asserting that the scientific data in the EIS was insufficient to justify the withdrawal. The ROD acknowledged that the magnitude of the risk was uncertain and that further study was necessary, but the ROD concluded that unrestricted mining presented a small but significant risk of groundwater contamination that would be substantially mitigated by withdrawing the land. The National Mining Association (NMA) (plaintiff) and others challenged the decision, arguing, among other things, that the secretary’s withdrawal was not authorized under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). FLPMA requires a withdrawal comprising 5,000 acres or more to be accompanied by a report explaining, among other things, the reason for the withdrawal and the effects of the withdrawal. The NMA argued that the department’s report exaggerated the risk of groundwater contamination caused by uranium mining. Thus, the NMA argued, the withdrawal was arbitrary and capricious because it was not justified by the scientific evidence in the record. The district court upheld the withdrawal, and the NMA appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Berzon, J.)

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