U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently announced his decision to protect the Grand Canyon and its watershed from the potential adverse effects of uranium and other hard rock mining on more than 1 million acres of federal land for the next 20 years.
The Public Land Order to withdraw these acres for 20 years from new mining claims and sites under the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights, is authorized by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. A Record of Decision was signed by the Secretary during a ceremony held at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.
“The secretary’s decision to rule out mining on more than 1 million acres of federal land deprives the United States of energy and minerals critically important to its economy and does so without compelling scientific evidence that is necessary for such a far-reaching measure,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO, U.S. National Mining Association (NMA). “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.”
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 consistent with the applicable land use plans. Approximately 3,200 mining claims are currently located in the withdrawal area.
During the withdrawal period, the BLM projects 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, according to the BLM’s analysis.
“Regrettably, the department’s withdrawal also ignores the obvious need for high-wage employment and energy security, as well as the national interest in deriving more of our domestic mineral needs from reserves located on federal lands,” Quinn said.
During the 1980s, nine uranium mines were developed on these lands and five were mined out. 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.
The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate—where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona.
Information on the withdrawal is available at www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html.