Candace Cheung

(CN) — Legislators from Arizona led a Monday lawsuit against President Joe Biden and his administration for the designation of a new national monument near Grand Canyon National Park, accusing the president of abusing the Antiquities Act and interfering with the state’s economic resources.

Through the Antiquities Act — which allows the president to protect objects with scientific or historical significance — Biden designated the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in Northern Arizona in August 2023.

“Congress passed the Antiquities Act to protect just that: antiquities. It did not pass the law to allow the Biden Administration to declare every inch of federal land a federal forest, cut off from all but those it selects,” the plaintiffs wrote in the 49-page suit filed in federal court in Arizona.

The legislators bringing the suit are led by Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma, who are joined by state treasurer Kimberly Yee, along with Mohave County, Colorado City and the town of Fredonia.

The plaintiffs likened the designation to a conquest by medieval kings, claiming that the monument now prevents the state from further development by cutting off recovery of natural resources like uranium, which may have negative repercussions for nearby communities.

The size and scope of the national monument, the Republican legislators say, far exceeds what the Antiquities Act intended.

The plaintiffs say the 900,000-acre monument that stretches through the state’s Mohave and Coconino counties “is not confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

The legislators further accuse the Biden administration of deliberately creating the monument to specifically stymie uranium and other mining in the area.

By blocking mining, the legislators say, the federal government is blocking a key financial avenue for the region, forcing the state to potentially increase taxes to make up for reduced funding for necessary resources, like schooling and public services.

The prevention of uranium mining is particularly contentious to the legislators, who say the designation’s 20-year moratorium on uranium mining — on a swath of land the plaintiffs say contains some of the richest uranium deposits in the nation — is compromising renewable energy development and even affecting international affairs.

According to the plaintiffs, 29% of Arizona’s electricity in 2022 came from nuclear sources that rely on uranium. Without a domestic source for uranium, the legislators warn, the United States may have to rely heavily on foreign sources that come with a price.

“Many uranium imports come from companies owned by nations, like Russia, with interests adverse to the interests of the United States and who ‘leverage’ their control over those companies ‘to further geopolitical ambitions,’” they write. “It logically follows that the proclamation exacerbates that risk by permanently barring mining from land within the Ancestral Footprints Monument.”

The legislators also say the monument intrudes on state trust land, rendering that land “inaccessible, impacting water rights, prohibiting new mining claims, prohibiting new grazing leases, limiting new construction of infrastructure and other property improvements, and affecting other uses of State Trust Land that had previously been allowed.”

Arizona rancher Chris Heaton echoed the legislators’ displeasure with the monument in a suit also filed Monday.

Heaton’s ranching work, he writes in his suit, inevitably harms or removes natural features of the land — now that that land is a national monument, he could be criminally charged for his work, despite his family’s decades of cattle ranching on the land.

Heaton asks for an injunction to allow him to maintain his existing grazing rights and water permits, and to prevent being charged for even simply removing brush or a piece of pottery from the land.