EARTHWORKS

Grand Canyon million-acre new mining claim withdrawal in effect

As expected, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has signed a R.O.D. order withdrawing one million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon

Mine Web | Dorothy Kosich

January 10, 2012
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Environmentalists praised the Obama Administration, while House and Senate Republicans accused the President of costing the country desperately needed jobs as U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced his decision to withdraw public lands near the Grand Canyon from new mining claims for two decades.

"We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources, and we have chosen a responsible path that makes sense for this and future generations," Salazar said as he announced the Public Land Order and signed a Record of Decision Monday during a ceremony held at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.

In a news release, the Department of Interior said, "The withdrawal does not prohibit previously approved uranium mining, new projects that could be approved on claims and sites with valid existing rights."

"The withdrawal would allow other natural resource development in the area, including mineral leasing, geothermal leasing and mineral materials sales, to the extent of applicable land use plans," the agency noted.

Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said, "The withdrawal maintains the pace of hardrock mining, particularly uranium near the Grand Canyon, but also gives the department a chance to monitor the impacts associated with the uranium mining in this area. It preserves the ability of future decision-makers to make thoughtful decisions about managing this area of national environmental and cultural significance based on the best information available."

The BLM forecasts that up to 11 uranium mines, including four that are currently approved, could still be developed based on valid pre-existing rights-"meaning the jobs supported by mining in the area would increase or remain flat as compared to the current level..."

"Without the withdrawal, there could be 30 uranium mines in the area over the next 20 years, including the four that are currently approved, with as many as six operating at one time," according to the BLM's environmental impact statement.

However, National Mining Association CEO Hal Quinn countered, "The administration's announcement is not supported by the findings of its own impact analysis, which provided no evidence to justify a massive withdrawal of land outside the Grand Canyon National Park. The department's environmental impact statement concluded future mining activity is unlikely to have significant impacts on the park, the surrounding environment or on allied tourism."

"These are among the reasons the department's expert advisory council in Arizona opposed the withdrawal," Quinn observed.

U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the decision "a misguided effort to impose ‘buffer zones' around national parks and other federal lands that effectively lock-up vast areas without Congressional approval."

"This type of unilateral extension of the borders of the park is unjustified and sets a terrible precedent," she declared.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hasting (R-Washington State), said, "Safe and responsible mining of this land could have produced thousands of high paying, family wage mining jobs. The United States is already 90 percent dependent on foreign sources of uranium and this decision only exacerbates our foreign dependence by locking up our own clean energy resources."

Hastings observed that "studies have shown that uranium mining outside of the park's border can be done safely with negligible environmental impacts. We can responsibly mine while still protecting the environment."

"It doesn't have to be the all or nothing approach that the Administration has unfortunately decided to take," he added.

However, House National Parks Subcommittee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, said, "As elected leaders of our state we should be standing shoulder to shoulder to protect the Grand Canyon, instead of shilling for outside interests and their short-term profits."

"It is not in our national security interest to jeopardize this critical ecosystem or put at risk a water supply relied on by 25 million Americans," he added. "Cities all across the Southwest, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and my hometown of Tucson, rely on the Colorado River watershed for their water supply."

Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environmental Group, said, "Today's action to safeguard the Grand Canyon reflects overwhelming public support and input from prominent scientists, elected officials, and business community leaders."

"The nation's antiquated mining law, however, still gives this industry unfettered access to the majority of public lands in the West-putting at risk other national parks, monuments, and forests," she added. "We hope the Obama Administration will work with Congress now to reform the 1872 Mining Law so that other American treasures are also protected."

"I congratulate the Obama Administration for making the right decision and protecting this iconic area from the 30 uranium mines that could have been built without this ban," said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks. Krill also called for reform of the "antiquated 1872 Mining Law."

"Heroic measures like Secretary Salazar's decision should not be needed to protect a place as special as the Grand Canyon," she stressed. Earthworks noted that Congress could overturn the DOI's withdrawal, but added "it is unlikely a measure to do so would receive enough bipartisan support to pass."

Tagged with: uranium, mining, grand canyon

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