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. On December 12, 2017, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the rulings of the Arizona federal district court.