Colorado River basin: On Wednesday the Interior Department released the final EIS for mineral exploration and production near the Grand Canyon


Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior:

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal has been released for public review. The EIS analyzes the potential effects of withdrawing Federal lands from locatable mineral exploration and mining near the Grand Canyon. The Final EIS also identifies the preferred alternative of withdrawing about 1 million acres from new mining claims.

The withdrawal would primarily affect uranium, which is the most economically viable mineral in the area.

While the preferred alternative would not allow new claims in the segregated area, approved mining operations could continue and new operations could be approved on valid existing mining claims. In addition, other Federal lands in Arizona and other parts of the country would remain open to hardrock mining claims.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on June 20, 2011, announced that the EIS preferred alternative is the 20-year withdrawal of mining claims and exploration on nearly 1 million acres north and south of the Grand Canyon National Park. Those lands are managed by the BLM and the Forest Service.

The release of the Final EIS initiates a 30-day review period after which the Secretary can make a final decision.

In advance of the decision, Secretary Salazar imposed an emergency six-month segregation on the lands being evaluated. That means no new mining claims can be filed on those lands. The emergency segregation ends Jan. 21, 2012.

The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Final Environmental Impact Statement
The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Draft EIS
The Draft EIS public comments

More coverage from John M. Broder writing for The New York Times. From the article:

Wednesday’s action starts a 30-day comment period, after which the Interior Department is expected to make the rule final.

The proposed rule would allow a small number of existing uranium and other hard rock mining operations in the region to continue while barring all new mining claims.

“The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world,” said Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management.

“Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure.”

More coverage from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit County Citizens Voice. From the article:

The final environmental study analyzes the potential effects of withdrawing federal lands near the Grand Canyon in Arizona from new uranium mining claims by identifying a preferred alternative that would withdraw about 1 million acres, subject to valid existing rights. The withdrawal would prevent new mining claims. Approved operations could continue and new operations could be approved on valid existing mining claims.

Even with the proposed withdrawal, the BLM estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years under the preferred alternative, including the four mines currently approved.

Led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, a group of Republicans in the U.S. Senate — under heavy lobbying from mining interests and the nuclear power industry — has introduced legislation that would prevent the BLM from withdrawing the lands from mining.

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

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that identifies the full withdrawal as the preferred alternative. The EIS will be published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Federal Register on Thursday, triggering a 30-day public comment period. After that, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar can finalize the controversial move that Republicans have been lining up to try to block legislatively…

Once finalized, the withdrawal – which precludes any new claims under the 1872 Mining Law – does not block current mining operations in the area or new mining on valid, existing claims.

Outdoor recreation groups, conservationists and hunting and fishing groups praised the final EIS.

“A healthy and sustainable Colorado River free from toxic contamination means that families and outdoor enthusiasts will continue to visit and enjoy the communities close to its banks,” Protect the Flows spokeswoman Molly Mugglestone said in a release. “Healthy rivers translate to the healthy local economies that power a robust multi-billion-dollar national recreation economy.”

More nuclear coverage here and here.

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