US Interior chief reportedly is poised to suspend uranium mining claims near Grand Canyon
WASHINGTON - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will announce today that his department is temporarily barring the filing of new uranium mining claims on about 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon, an Obama administration official said.
The land is being “segregated’’ for two years so that the department can study whether it should be permanently withdrawn from mining activity, said the official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The announcement comes ahead of a congressional hearing tomorrow on a bill to set aside more than 1 million acres of federal lands north and south of the canyon. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Raul Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, and environmental groups had been looking to Salazar for temporary protections at the Grand Canyon while the legislation is pending.
The Interior Department under President George W. Bush was unresponsive to efforts to ban new uranium mining claims.
A coalition of environmental groups sued, and the US Bureau of Land Management later rescinded Congress’s right to withdraw lands from mining and other activities in emergencies.
Since then, environmentalists and Grijalva have been hanging their hopes on Salazar for temporary protections.
Any companion bill to Grijalva’s in the Senate is unlikely to come from Arizona’s two US senators. Republicans John McCain and Jon Kyl told Grijalva in a letter last month that adequate protections already exist.
Conservationists contend mining leaves the Grand Canyon vulnerable to environmental damage and that no new operations should be proposed when the old mining sites haven’t been cleaned up.
There are as many as 10,000 existing mining claims on BLM and US Forest Service lands near the Grand Canyon for all types of hard-rock exploration. Some 1,100 uranium mining claims are within 5 miles of the Grand Canyon National Park.
The protections offered by Salazar won’t include uranium mining claims already filed, the official said.