The Obama administration moved closer to adopting a 20-year ban on new mining claims on 1 million acres of land around the Grand Canyon by issuing the final environmental impact statement analyzing potential consequences of the prohibition.
The ban would extend a two-year moratorium established in 2009 that is set to expire in December. Uranium mining claims have jumped 2,000% in recent years in land bordering Grand Canyon National Park and supporters of the ban argue it is necessary to protect Colorado River supplies vital to the Southwest and Southern California.
“For more than a century, this national treasure has endured because a series of American presidents have had the foresight and willingness to safeguard it from mining and other development interests,” said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group.
The environmental documents, issued Wednesday, will be used to support the Interior Department's final decision, expected after a 30-day review period.
Extending the mining ban would not affect existing claims. According to the impact statement, “as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years,” including four mines already approved.
The new ban is opposed by the mining industry and Republicans from the region in both houses of Congress, who introduced a bill in October to block it. The legislation was sponsored by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah and John McCain of Arizona, and by Reps. Trent Franks, Jeff Flake, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert and Ben Quayle of Arizona and Rob Bishop of Utah.
“If this study had relied more on science and less on a political agenda, it would confirm that uranium mining in northern Arizona can create jobs and stimulate the local economy without jeopardizing the beauty of Grand Canyon National Park,” Flake said.
-- Neela Banerjee
Photo: Sunset at Mohave Point in Grand Canyon National Park. The Department of Interior is considering a 20-year ban on new mining claims on 1 million acres around the park. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles