The Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced January 9 that more than 1 million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona will be withdrawn from new uranium and other hardrock mining claims over the next 20 years.

The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands; and 23,993 acres of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 withdrawal does not prohibit previously approved uranium mining and new projects that could be approved on claims and sites with valid existing rights. Approximately 3,200 mining claims are currently located in the withdrawal area.

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that up to 11 uranium mines, including four that are currently approved, could still be developed during the withdrawal period based on valid pre-existing rights. 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 statement said.

In response to the Department of the Interior announcement, National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn issued a statement, saying: “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.”

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said, “The Grand Canyon deserves to be protected and it is, but this decision is part of 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.”

Last year, Murkowski sent a letter to Secretary Salazar and Energy Secretary Steven Chu asking what steps the administration was taking to reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign suppliers for 90% of its uranium needs. Salazar’s withdrawal announcement was not the answer she was hoping for, Senator Murkowski said.

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