Decision allows for monitoring to determine impact of uranium mining
WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 10, 2012 -- For the next 20 years, new mining claims will be banned on over a million acres of federal land in the Grand Canyon watershed, protecting it from the potential adverse effects of uranium and other hardrock mining.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who signed the Record of Decision during a ceremony at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., said the withdrawal will provide adequate time for monitoring to inform future land use decisions in the area, while allowing currently approved mining operations to continue as well as new operations on valid existing mining claims.
The withdrawn area includes 355,874 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on the Kaibab National Forest; 626,678 acres of Bureau of Land Management lands; and 23,993 acres of split estate -- where surface lands are held by other owners while subsurface minerals are owned by the federal government. The affected lands, all in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon or Grand Canyon National Park, are located in Mohave and Coconino Counties of Northern Arizona.
"A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape," Salazar said. "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, irrigation, industrial and environmental use. 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."
Some projects will be exempted from the order. The withdrawal does not prohibit previously approved uranium mining, new projects that could be approved on claims and sites with valid existing rights. The withdrawal would allow other natural resource development in the area, including mineral leasing, geothermal leasing and mineral materials sales, to the extent consistent with the applicable land use plans. Approximately 3,200 mining claims are currently located in the withdrawal area.
During the withdrawal period, the BLM projects that up to 11 uranium mines, including four that are currently approved, could still be developed based on valid pre-existing rights -- meaning the jobs supported by mining in the area would increase or remain flat as compared to the current level, according to the BLM's analysis. By comparison, during the 1980s, nine uranium mines were developed on these lands and five were mined out. Without the withdrawal, there could be 30 uranium mines in the area over the next 20 years, including the four that are currently approved, with as many as six operating at one time, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) estimates.
For more information on the withdrawal, visit www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html.