Interior Department Is Considering Request to Lift a 20-Year Ban on Uranium Mining
Trump could revoke former President Barack Obama’s 20-year ban on new uranium mines near the Grand Canyon.
The Board of Supervisors in Mohave County in northwest Arizona has asked Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to look at lifting the ban, and both Arizona senators oppose the ban. U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) is a former lobbyist for a uranium mining company.
“I think the Trump administration is very interested in looking at the situation,” said Gary Watson, chairman of the Mohave board. “A number of companies are very anxious to get in there and start extracting uranium.”
Zinke and other Trump agency heads are working to identify what federal actions can be undone to promote “energy independence and economic growth” to meet one of Trump’s executive orders.
In 2012, Ken Salazar, Obama’s interior secretary, banned new mining claims for 20 years on a million acres of land surrounding the Grand Canyon.
“A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape,” Salazar said. “People from all over the country and all 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.”
One of the attractions is the turquoise Havasupai Falls at the bottom of the canyon on Native American land outside the national park. The tribal name means “people of the blue-green water.”
Uranium was discovered near the south rim of the Grand Canyon in 1951. The Orphan Mine produced 13 million pounds of uranium used to power nuclear reactors and make nuclear weapons. At least one creek in the national park, Horn Creek, is contaminated by uranium.
The Redwall Aquifer that supplies springs in the Grand Canyon is near rock formations that contain high-grade uranium ore.
“We are faced with the potential dangers of uranium contamination into our sole water supply,” said Carletta Tilousi of the Havasupai tribal council
The National Mining Association sued over the ban. The case is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. One of the mining association’s members is the Denver law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. David Bernhardt, Trump’s choice for the No. 2 person at the Interior Department, is a partner at Brownstein Hyatt.
Bernhardt has said he won’t participate in matters “in which I know the firm is a party or represents a party” for a year unless he gets permission.
The ban does not affect about 3,200 existing mine claims. The Canyon Mine, owned by Energy Fuels Inc., may reopen later this year. The mine is six miles from the canyon’s south rim and is also near Red Butte, a peak that is sacred to the Havasupai.
The Havasupai tribe and environmental groups are trying to block it. That case is also before the Ninth Circuit.
Featured photo: The Orphan Mine on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2002.