BLM In Position To Issue 20-Year Moratorium On Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon National Park

U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials on Wednesday announced their preference to extend a moratorium on uranium mining around Grand Canyon National Park for 20 years. After a 30-day waiting period, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will be able to sign off on the plan.

Taylor McKinnon, a spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, said it largely was a foregone conclusion that the Interior secretary would enforce the moratorium.

"He's indicated as much. In June he came to the Grand Canyon and he indicated that the full 1 million (acre) withdrawal would be the preferred alternative in that EIS," Mr. McKinnon said. "That's the direction this is heading, and we think that's the right direction."

Secretary Salazar in June extended a moratorium on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres surrounding the national park so federal land managers could finish their study of potential impacts from the mining and impacts from denying new mining claims.

The move to temporarily withdraw the acreage from hard-rock mining claims extends a decision the secretary made back in July 2009 to place a moratorium on new mining claims on the landscape until threats to the canyon could be analyzed. About the same time U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, which would have made the moratorium permanent.

The preferred alternative in the final Environmental Impact Statement released Wednesday is the "full proposed withdrawal of approximately 1 million acres of BLM and Forest Service lands located near the national park from mining claim location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law for 20 years, subject to valid exiting rights."

According to a BLM release, the federal lands are located in three parcels, two parcels north of the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM Arizona Strip lands and the North Kaibab Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest, and one south of the Grand Canyon on the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest.

“The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey. “Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure. The preferred alternative would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area.”

There has been legislation introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives to block the administration from enforcing the moratorium. In July the House Appropriations Committee amended Interior's budget bill to tie the administration's hands on the matter.

However, there's also been public support in Arizona for the ban. More than 200 business owners in the state signed a "postcard" to the Interior secretary in September asking him to support the moratorium.

“The health of our economy depends on making smart policy decisions that support small business,” Ron Hubert, president of the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative that assisted in circulating postcards to business owners in Flagstaff, said last month. “Secretary Salazar is on track to make one of these smart decisions. Protecting the Grand Canyon protects Arizona’s economy, our future, and our way of life.”

Back at the Center for Biological Diversity, Mr. McKinnon doubted the House legislation would survive.

"My read on that is the GOP is schilling for foreign uranium corporations," he said. "I think its chances of success are low. I also think it's very unpopular legislation with the majority of the public and people around the world who would like to see the Grand Canyon protected."