Obama Administration to Ban Uranium Mining at the Grand Canyon

Osha Gray Davidson
Obama Administration to Ban Uranium Mining at the Grand Canyon

Standing at the south rim of the Grand Canyon this morning, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Obama administration will enact a 20-year ban on new uranium mining in the last remaining unprotected lands surrounding the place President Theodore Roosevelt called “the one great sight which every American should see.”

Salazar said more study is needed before finalizing the withdrawal of the million acres of land around the Grand Canyon. A two-year moratorium that would have expired in weeks has been extended until December when the decision will become official.

Mining companies had filed thousands of claims in recent years, but it is unlikely that any of the 3,500 mining claims in the area will receive federal permits when the 20-year ban goes into effect. In March, Arizona’s Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) issued permits to three uranium mines on the land – provoking an outcry by native peoples, hunters, hikers, tourism groups and environmental organizations.

The moratorium will “reverse a century-long history of damage to the Grand Canyon from uranium mining,” said Roger Clark, director of air quality and clean energy for the Grand Canyon Trust, an Arizona-based non-profit. Clark led the group’s fight against plans to restart mining, and attended today's announcement.

Steve Martin, Superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park from 2007 to 2011, has also criticized mining near the icon. “There should be some places that you just do not mine," said Martin. "I worry about uranium escaping into the local water, and about its effect on fish in the Colorado River at the bottom of the gorge, and on the bald eagles, California condors and bighorn sheep.”

In addition to an increased potential for water and air pollution, critics say new mines would disturb large areas of land, creating breeding grounds for invasive species and harming wildlife. A first draft federal assessment on the impacts of uranium mining in the area cited many of the same concerns.

Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association told the Los Angeles Times that the moratorium "is scientifically unsupportable and sets a troublesome precedent as we struggle to create jobs and meet more of our future energy needs with domestic fuels."

But the Grand Canyon Trust's Roger Clark disagrees with Raulston's assessment -- calling today's announcement "everything we hoped for."

Asked what Teddy Roosevelt would think of announcement, Clark doesn't hesitate.

"Somewhere," he replies, "TR is smiling."