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Since its creation in 1977, MSLF has been the Nation's leading legal center defending the rights of all Americans to make use of the one-third of the nation that is owned by the federal government. By law, much of the Nation's federal land is available for multiple uses, including recreation, as well as mining, oil and gas development, forestry, ranching, and other activities. MSLF seeks, by its legal efforts, to ensure the continuation of these activities on federal lands and has established a number of vitally important precedents by its litigation.

American Exploration & Mining Association v. Zinke

Why We Fight:

Federal experts concluded that uranium mining in Arizona posed no danger to far away Grand Canyon, but political officials illegally closed an area the size of Delaware to this vital energy resource because environmental groups demanded it.

Summary:

Congress designated 600,000 acres of federal land on or near the Arizona Strip, which lies south of the Colorado River and the north of Grand Canyon National Park, for multiple use, including uranium mining.  Nonetheless, the Obama administration closed over one million acres of land in the area to uranium mining.

Legal Question:

Whether the Secretary of the Interior may withdraw over 1,000,000 acres of public lands from entry and location under the General Mining Law without fully and correctly analyzing the purported environmental consequences of such an action?

Plaintiff:

American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA) (formerly Northwest Mining Association [NWMA])

Defendant:

Sally Jewell, Secretary, Department of the Interior; United States Bureau Of Land Management; Thomas J. Vilsack, Secretary, Department of Agriculture; and United States Forest Service

Court:

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
A decision by the Ninth Circuit panel
The Arizona Strip, which lies north of the Colorado River in northern Arizona, is bordered to the south by the northern rim of Grand Canyon National Park. In the 1984 Arizona Wilderness Act, Congress designated 250,000 acres of federal land on or near the Arizona Strip as wilderness and released 600,000 acres of land in the same area for multiple use, including uranium mining, as a result of an historic compromise among environmental groups, uranium mining interests, the livestock industry, and others.


In July 2009, Secretary Salazar proposed to withdraw from operation of the General Mining Law 633,547 acres of BLM lands and 360,002 acres of National Forest lands in the Arizona Strip for up to 20 years to "protect the Grand Canyon watershed from adverse effects of locatable hardrock mineral exploration and mining."

In February 2011, the BLM issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding the proposed withdrawal in response to which the NWMA filed comments noting that uranium mining is not a threat to the environment of the Grand Canyon or the Colorado River watershed, given the scores of state and federal laws enacted to protect those resources.

In June 2011, Secretary Salazar issued an emergency withdrawal of the lands; in October 2011, the BLM issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS); and, in January 2012, Secretary Salazar issued an order withdrawing over one million acres of federal land from operation of the General Mining Law for 20 years. On March 6, 2012, MSLF filed a complaint on behalf of the NWMA asserting that Secretary Salazar's closure of lands managed by both the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the "Arizona Strip," violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

On June 1, 2012, the Secretary moved to dismiss for lack of standing. On July 19, 2012, the NWMA filed an opposition to the Secretary’s motion to dismiss and on August 16, 2012, the Secretary filed a reply.  On August 20, 2012, the district court consolidated the NWMA case with three other cases challenging the Secretary’s withdrawal. On October 26, 2012, oral arguments were held on the pending motions to dismiss in all four cases. On January 8, 2013, the district court ruled that the NWMA had Article III standing to challenge the withdrawal, but lacked prudential standing to pursue its NEPA claims.

On January 18, 2013, the NWMA moved for partial summary judgment on its constitutional claim, arguing that the Secretary lacked the authority to make such a large withdrawal because the relevant statutory provision contained an unconstitutional legislative veto.  On February 8, 2013, the Secretary filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.  On March 1, 2013, the district court heard oral arguments and, on March 20, 2013, granted summary judgment in favor of the Secretary holding that, while the legislative veto provision is unconstitutional, it is severable from the statute. On April 3, 2013, two other plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration to which the NWMA filed a joinder. On May 16, 2013, the district court denied the motion for reconsideration.  

On June 12, 2013, the NWMA filed a motion for final judgment on its seventh claim for relief pursuant to Rule 54(b) in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure arguing that the Secretary exceeded his authority in withdrawing over 5,000 acres to permit the NWMA to appeal immediately to the Ninth Circuit. On July 1, 2013, the Secretary filed a response in opposition to the motion for final judgment.  On July 8, 2013, the NWMA filed its reply.  On July 12, 2013, the district court denied the motion for final judgment.

On December 6, 2013, the NWMA filed a motion for summary judgment on its remaining claims.  On January 1, 2014, NWMA changed its name to American Exploration & Mining Association (AEMA).  On February 20, 2014, the Secretary filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and an opposition to AEMA’s motion for summary judgment.  On March 6, 2014, environmental intervenors filed a cross-motion for summary judgment and an opposition to AEMA’s motion for summary judgment.  On April 30, 2014, AEMA filed its response/reply.  On June 6, 2014, the Secretary filed a reply.

On September 9, 2014, the court held oral argument on the motions for summary judgment.  On September 30, 2014 the district court denied AEMA and the other plaintiffs’ motions for summary judgment and granted the Secretary’s motions for summary judgment.  AEMA and the other plaintiffs timely appealed the district court’s judgment to the Ninth Circuit.  On December 15, 2014, the appeals were consolidated.

On April 10, 2015, AEMA filed its opening brief at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  On August 19, 2015, the Secretary filed a response brief.  On September 3, 2015, the environmental intervenors filed their response brief. On October 22, 2015, AEMA filed its reply brief.  On December 15, 2016, MSLF appeared before a Ninth Circuit panel in San Francisco on behalf of AEMA.

No Status Updates
  • Miners Lament Appeals Court Ruling Upholding Feds’ Million Acre Land Withdrawal

    Dec 12, 2017
    A 122-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members expressed its grave disappointment with the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding three rulings by an Arizona federal district court that validated an edict by the Secretary of the Interior closing over a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona to mining.
  • Miners Appear at Appeals Court to Fight Feds’ Million Acre Land Withdrawal

    Dec 15, 2016
    A 121-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members appeared today before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to urge the three-judge panel to reverse three rulings by an Arizona federal district court to void an edict by the Secretary of the Interior closing a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona to mining.
  • Miners Rebut Feds in Million Acre Land Withdrawal Appeal

    Oct 22, 2015
    A 120-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reject arguments made by federal lawyers and to reverse three rulings by an Arizona federal district court to void an edict by the Secretary of the Interior closing a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona to mining.
  • Miners Urge Reversal of Million Acre Land Withdrawal Ruling

    Apr 10, 2015
    A 120-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse three rulings by an Arizona federal district court in an attempt to void a decision by the Secretary of the Interior closing a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona.
  • Miners Appeal Defeat in Challenge to Million Acre Land Withdrawal

    Nov 25, 2014
    A 119-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today noticed its appeal of three rulings by an Arizona federal district court in the group’s attempt to void a decision by the Secretary of the Interior closing a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona.
  • Miners Lose in Challenge to Million Acre Land Withdrawal

    Sep 30, 2014
    A 119-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today suffered defeat in an Arizona federal district court in its attempt to void a decision by the Secretary of the Interior locking up a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona be invalidated.
  • Miners Argue for a Ruling On Illegal Million Acre Withdrawal

    Sep 9, 2014
    A 119-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members appeared in an Arizona federal district court today to urge that a decision by the Secretary of the Interior locking up a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona be invalidated.
  • Miners Seek Summary Judgment On Illegal Million Acre Withdrawal

    Apr 30, 2014
    An 119-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members today filed its final brief urging an Arizona federal district court to overturn a decision by the Secretary of the Interior to lock up a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona.
  • Miners Seek Summary Judgment in Million Acre Withdrawal Lawsuit

    Dec 6, 2013
    A 118-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members, which argues that the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw over a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona from operation of the mining law, today filed a motion for summary judgment.
  • Miners Denied Immediate Appeal of Withdrawal Law Ruling

    Jul 12, 2013
    An Arizona federal district court today barred a 118-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members, which argues that a federal law used to lock up a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona is unconstitutional, from appealing the district court’s ruling that the law is constitutional.
  • Miners Seek Final Judgment on Withdrawal Law

    Jun 12, 2013
  • Minders seek Reconsideration of Withdrawal Law

    Apr 3, 2013
    A 117-year-old nonprofit, non-partisan mining trade association with thousands of members, which had argued that a federal law used to lock-up a million acres of federal land in northwestern Arizona is unconstitutional, today joined with other plaintiffs in urging an Arizona federal district court to reconsider its ruling last month that the law is constitutional.


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