US miners ask Supreme Court to end uranium mining ban near Grand Canyon

The US mining industry is asking the Supreme Court to revoke an Obama-era rule banning the mining of uranium on public lands nearby the Grand Canyon.

The National Mining Association (NMA) and the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) filed petitions on Friday asking the court to reverse the 2012 ban implemented by the previous administration as uranium prices soared and a flurry of new mining claims came pouring in.

Miners and other groups with a stake in the sector have long argued the US Department of the Interior erred in its decision to ban new attempts to extract uranium from public land near the national park.

Supporters of the ban say new mining activity will likely boost the risk of uranium-contaminated water flowing into the Canyon.

According to them, such prohibition was based on "overly cautious," speculative environmental risks. But supporters of the ban say new mining activity will likely boost the risk of contaminating plants, animals and the Colorado river — a water source for more than 30 million people.

Local scientists studying the potential effects of extracting the radioactive element around the Grand Canyon said on Sunday they lacked information on whether there are traces of uranium hurting the environment.

The U.S. Geological Survey is leading a 15-year study that seeks to establish whether the 1 million-acre area surrounding the national park needs protection from new uranium mining claims, AP reported.

The agency, however, has warned it hasn’t received enough funds to finish the study, which could lead to authorities deciding that since there’s a lack of evidence of environmental harm, uranium mining in the area can restart.

Uranium resources in the so-called Arizona Strip represent about 40% of the US reserves. The yellow element was extracted there, mostly across the vast Navajo Nation reservation — from western New Mexico into Arizona and southern Utah —, for use in the government's nuclear weapons program during the Cold War, causing extensive environmental damage.

There still are over 500 abandoned uranium mines on Navajo Nation territory, but funds available to begin the clean-up process could currently only cover about 200 of them.