Energy policy — nuclear: Secretary Salazar places Grand Canyon off limits to uranium mining for the time being, hopes for a 20 year ban

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Here’s a release from the Environmental Working Group (Lauren Pagel/Leeann Brown):

The Obama administration today took an emergency measure to bar new mining claims on a 1-million-acre area around the Grand Canyon until December. At that time, administration officials indicated they hope to come up with a more comprehensive solution to protect one million acres around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims for the next 20 years.

The million-acre area has been off limits to mining for the past two years. That moratorium, issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is set to expire July 20.

“The 26 million Americans who rely on the Colorado River for drinking water have some breathing room,” said EWG senior counsel Dusty Horwitt. “Now we need to work to ensure the Interior Department follows through” with a permanent ban on new mining claims.

“This decision will help protect our most famous natural landmark and the lifeblood of the Southwest,” Horwitt said. “Congress must ensure that this land is permanently put off-limits to new mining claims.”

“The Grand Canyon is an American icon and part of a water network that provides the most basic need of a vast area of the Southwest,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director of Earthworks, an international mining reform organization. “The Canyon and the Colorado River deserve permanent protection from uranium mining.”

A study by Environmental Working Group and Earthworks published last week called uranium mining near the park “a gamble with our most treasured national park and the drinking water for 26 million Americans” who rely on Colorado River water.

Thirty-five hundred uranium mining claims lie within the protected area. The White House cannot legally nullify existing claims, but barring new claims makes mining on existing claims more difficult.

Sixty-one of these claims are held by Karen Wenrich, a mining industry consultant whose analysis of mining impacts on the Colorado river was used by the Bureau of Land Management in an environmental impact analysis released earlier this year. The BLM relied on Wenrich’s research to downplay risks to the river, but did not disclose Wenrich’s status as a claimholder or that she stood to make $225,000 by selling her claims to a uranium mining company if the Interior Department left the million-acre area open to new claims.

EWG and Earthworks’ recent report highlighted this conflict of interest in addition to other concerns surrounding mining in the area, including the fact that foreign companies hold hundreds of claims near the park. Under the current mining law, written in 1872, companies do not have to pay any royalties to the U.S. government for mining on public lands.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

Speaking at Grand Canyon National Park today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims as the “preferred alternative” in an ongoing federal review of hardrock mining on the 1 million acres of public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon.

Salazar immediately issued a “temporary emergency withdrawal” through December of this year as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management prepares an environmental impact statement on mining around the Grand Canyon that’s expected to be released this fall.

Other alternatives include leaving all 1 million acres open to new mining claims, withdrawing 300,000 acres, withdrawing 650,000 acres or withdrawing the full 1 million acres.

In announcing the full withdrawal as the preferred alternative, Salazar cited water quality concerns and the economic benefit of the more than 4 million visitors a year and $3.5 billion in tourism and outdoor recreation spending in the Grand Canyon region of northern Arizona.

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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