Friday, December 04, 2009

9th Circuit Grants Indian Tribes Preliminary Injunction Against Mt. Tebo Mining Project

In South Fork Bank Council of Western Shoshone of Nevada v. U.S. Department of the Interior, (9th Cir., Dec. 3, 2009), a group of Indian tribes sought a preliminary injunction to stop Barrick Gold Corp.'s open pit gold mining project on Nevada's Mt. Tebo. The mountain is a religious site for the tribes. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. (See prior posting.) On appeal the tribes did not challenge the district court's rejection of their claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The tribes would continue to have access to the areas that had the most religious significance to them. However the tribes did appeal the denial of relief for alleged violations of the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLMPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The court of appeals agreed with the district court that the executive branch had complied with an Executive Order issued under the FLPMA requiring accommodation of tribal access and ceremonial use of sacred sites and barring physical damage to the sites. However the court of appeals agreed with the tribes that the government had violated NEPA. It ordered entry of a preliminary injunction because, in its environmental impact statement, the Bureau of Land Management had not adequately studied the serious effects of processing refractory ore and exhausting scarce water resources. AP reports on the decision.