MAC: Mines and Communities

US government imposes Grand Canyon uranium ban

Published by MAC on 2012-01-16
Source: Press Association, Arizona Republic News, CP

There was a partial victory for US environmentalists when, in June last year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imposed a six month moratorium on uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon area of Arizona. See: Moratorium Extended at Grand Canyon

Now the government has extended the moratorium for twenty years, much to the chagrin of many Republicans and mining companies.

However, existing claims will not be affected by the ban.


Obama imposes Grand Canyon mine ban

Press Association

10 January 2012

The Obama administration has announced a 20-year ban on new mining claims on more than one million acres near the Grand Canyon, among the most well-known and visited natural wonders in the United States.

The area is known to have large reserves of high-grade uranium ore, and critics contend the ban will eliminate hundreds of jobs and deprive the country of a critically important energy source.

The area near the Grand Canyon contains as much as 40% of the nation's known uranium resources, worth tens of billions of dollars.

The decision ignored pressure from congressional Republicans and mining industry figures who wanted a policy change to open the area for additional mining claims.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the 20-year ban at an event in Washington.

Temporary bans had been imposed twice by the Obama administration. Mr Salazar said uranium remains an important part of a comprehensive energy strategy but said the Grand Canyon is a national treasure that must be protected.

The vast canyon in north eastern Arizona attracts more than four million visitors a year and generates an estimated 3.5 billion US dollars in economic activity, Mr Salazar said.

Millions of Americans living in cities including Phoenix, the Arizona capital, and Los Angeles, California, rely on the Colorado River for clean drinking water.

"A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape," Mr Salazar said in a speech at the National Geographic Museum.

"People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place, and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water (and) irrigation."

Feds ban new mining claims near Grand Canyon

By Shaun McKinnon

Arizona Republic News

9 January 2012

A decision to limit uranium mining on public lands near Grand Canyon National Park could turn into an election-year issue over jobs and the cost of protecting the environment.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed the order Monday to ban new hard-rock mining activities on about 1 million acres of public lands near the Canyon. Doing so, he said, will preserve an iconic wonder for millions of visitors and safeguard water and natural resources for millions more Westerners.

But even before Salazar's public event in Washington, D.C., Republicans began accusing the White House of caving in to liberal interest groups and framed the action as a job-killer, echoing a fundamental GOP talking point on the campaign trail.

Environmental groups praised Salazar for halting the spread of uranium mining near the Canyon and portrayed Republicans as beholden to mining and energy industries. But the groups also braced for possible legal challenges and the potential that a GOP White House could reverse the action if President Barack Obama loses his re-election bid.

The decision was not unexpected. The Interior Department endorsed the mining ban last fall after reviewing the environmental consequences of allowing mines to operate or putting the land off-limits to new claims. The government has enforced a temporary ban for more than two years, withdrawing the land from acreage open to mining.

The ban applies only to new claims. Existing mines or operations based on claims already validated can proceed. The Interior Department estimates as many as 11 mines could open over the 20-year life of the land withdrawal, about one-third as many as could open without the ban.

Salazar said the limits on new mining are meant to protect the Canyon and the Colorado River from potentially adverse effects of uranium contamination. At the same time, he said, the government can study the effects of mines that operate to gather information for a more permanent policy.

"A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape," Salazar said in a speech at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C. "We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources, and we have chosen a responsible path that makes sense for this and future generations."

The ban encompasses all hard-rock mining, but the land withdrawal grew out of the increase in uranium exploration as prices for the ore rose. The plateau surrounding the Canyon holds some of the largest stores of uranium in the U.S.

Conservation advocates had long pushed for the ban, arguing that mined uranium could contaminate the land near the Canyon and seep into regional water supplies through aquifers and the Colorado, which flows through the Canyon. During the 1950s and 1960s, uranium poisoned creeks and springs near the Canyon, where signs still warn visitors. Toxic waste also seeped into groundwater on the Navajo Reservation.

But mining foes failed to find traction in Congress to enact a permanent ban, even when Democrats controlled both houses and the White House in 2009. Mining companies lobbied against such a ban and finally pushed the issue into the Interior Department.

"Given the opposition we've had, this is a very significant step," said Roger Clark, who has worked on the issue for the Flagstaff-based Grand Canyon Trust. "Politically, it's one of the biggest decisions toward protecting public lands that this administration has made."

Rep. Ral Grijalva, D-Ariz., introduced legislation to withdraw the lands permanently but failed to win enough support to move the bill out of committees. He praised Salazar's decision and tried to blunt arguments that potential mining jobs should have been considered.

"As elected leaders of our state, we should be standing shoulder to shoulder to protect the Grand Canyon instead of shilling for outside interests and their short-term profits," Grijalva said in a written statement. "The Grand Canyon is not a payday-loan operation - it is a symbol of our nation."

Gov. Jan Brewer said she was disappointed by the decision and what it means for the economy, suggesting the issue isn't all-or-nothing for either side.

"The Grand Canyon is a timeless treasure and Arizona's most recognizable landmark," she said. "Nobody wants to see it harmed. But I believe that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. We could and should have both."

Congressional Republicans lined up quickly to criticize the ban, repeatedly characterizing it as a concession to environmental groups and a decision that will cost the northern Arizona economy valuable jobs.

"Today's actions show that the administration continues to count on the distortion of truths and the outright denial of facts to push their big-government agenda," said Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., whose current district includes much of the Canyon and surrounding communities.

Gosar, who has said he will seek re-election in a new district that covers the Canyon's western edges, said that no ban is necessary because no mine can exist within the park and insisted that cautious development with careful oversight can protect resources without such arbitrary limits.

He and other GOP lawmakers lamented the loss of uranium that they said would help secure energy independence. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., accused Obama of selling out U.S. economic interests to placate "radical leftist environmentalists."

Others said Salazar ignored advances in mining technology that would not only protect the environment but keep the mines themselves so low-profile on the landscape that tourists would never see them.

"This decision is fueled by an emotional public-relations campaign pitting the public's love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the Canyon walls and in no way impacts the quality of drinking water from the Colorado River," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a written statement.

Conservation groups said Republicans are trying to brush aside the legacy of uranium mining on the plateau, where abandoned mines contaminated the ground and water.

"Instead of threatening the Grand Canyon state's economic engine with more toxic uranium pollution, Senator McCain and his GOP colleagues should create Americans jobs by making the uranium industry clean up its decades-old pollution legacy here in northern Arizona," said Taylor McKinnon, public-lands campaign director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Mining foes disputed the Republican claim that the ban would cost the region jobs. Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor, a Democrat, said the mines would create far fewer jobs than the tourism industry, which brings an estimated $687million a year to the region.

Although mining companies can say their operations are less visible than they once were, Taylor said the ore must still be hauled from the sites to mills in southeastern Utah. An overturned truck could close the highway into the national park for days, Taylor said.

"We see no upside to this industry," Taylor said. "They don't help maintain roads, there's no guarantee the uranium will be used in this country, the industry doesn't pay royalties.

"The downside of this is huge. For our own governor and representatives to be claiming that this is the death of an industry is a lot of malarkey."

Quaterra considers legal options after U.S. mining lands withdrawn

The Canadian Press

11 January 2012

VANCOUVER - Junior miner Quaterra Resources Inc. (TSXV:QTA) says it is considering its legal options after a U.S. government decision to withdraw access to lands in Arizona where the company was planning to mine uranium.

Quaterra said Wednesday that a decision this week by the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw about one million acres of federal land in the northern part of the state from new mineral entry for 20 years affects about 85 per cent of its Arizona claims.

"The withdrawal order appears to be politically motivated rather than based upon an objective view of fact and law related to environmental risk," Quaterra president and CEO Thomas Patton said in a statement.

The company has spent about $13 million in acquisition, exploration and development costs in the area.

While the order would prevent new mining claims, it would not prohibit exploration and development on existing mining claims found to be valid. Quaterra said it has more than 200 targets on the federal lands that will now be subject to a valid existing rights examination.

Quaterra said it will continue to focus on developing its copper assets in Nevada and gold and silver assets in Mexico, but will also hold its uranium claims in Arizona until the issues are resolved.

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