Salazar Recommends No New Uranium Mines for Grand Canyon Area

MATHER POINT, Grand Canyon National Park, June 20, 2011 (ENS) – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today that he will prevent the opening of one million acres of public and National Forest System lands surrounding the Grand Canyon to new uranium mining claims while the Bureau of Land Management completes a final Environmental Impact Statement that evaluates a preferred alternative of a 20 year mineral withdrawal on those same lands.

Speaking at the Grand Canyon, Salazar said that management of the Grand Canyon area must be guided by “caution, wisdom, and science,” to protect the World Heritage Site, tribal interests, drinking water supplies, and the tourism economy that the area’s natural resources support.

“Some of the lands near the Grand Canyon contain uranium resources that have helped meet our energy needs,” said Salazar. “Over the past 20 years, eight uranium mines have operated in the area and one study has shown that a possible additional eight to 11 mines might be developed in the area.”

He said the question now is “not whether to stop cautious and moderate uranium development, but whether to allow further expansion of uranium mining in the area.”

The Bureau of Land Management has been studying this question since July, 2009, when Salazar initiated a two-year closure of the area to new uranium mining claims.

BLM, in coordination with other agencies, the States, Counties, Tribes, and other partners published a draft environmental impact statement that examined whether to implement a 20 year mineral withdrawal, subject to valid existing rights, for certain areas around the Grand Canyon.

The options they considered were no withdrawal, which would allow new hard rock mining claims to be filed; a partial withdrawal of approximately 300,000 acres; a partial withdrawal of 650,000 acres; and a full withdrawal of approximately one million acres.

The BLM received nearly 300,000 comments on this draft environmental impact statement.

The time has now come to respond to those comments and identify a “preferred alternative” for a final environmental impact statement that the agency will complete by this fall, Salazar said.

Based on public comments and the water quality concerns raised by downstream water users, Salazar ordered a temporary emergency withdrawal, through December 20, 2011, of the full one million acres the BLM is studying for the potential long-term withdrawal, subject to valid existing rights.

“This emergency six-month withdrawal will ensure that no new mining claims can be filed after the current two-year segregation expires on July 20,” said Salazar.

The interior secretary also directed the BLM to identify the full one million acre uranium withdrawal as the preferred alternative in the final EIS.

“This alternative, if ultimately selected, would ensure that all public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park are protected from new hard rock mining claims, all of which are in the watershed of the Grand Canyon,” Salazar said.

Salazar said he based this decision on the input of BLM Director Bob Abbey, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, USGS Director Marcia McNutt, and the United States Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

“This remains an ongoing process,” Salazar said. Now, BLM will complete the environmental analysis of the preferred alternative and other alternatives and publish a final environmental impact statement by fall 2011. The secretary will then make a final decision on the potential 20-year mineral withdrawal.

Before uranium miners could voice their objections, Salazar said his decisions today would not deny all access to uranium resources.

“Uranium, like oil and gas, solar, wind, geothermal, and other sources, remains a vital component of a responsible and comprehensive energy strategy,” said the secretary. “We will continue to develop uranium in northern Arizona, Wyoming and other places across the country.”

“We believe there are likely a number of valid existing rights in the proposed withdrawal area even if the preferred alternative is ultimately selected as the final decision,” he said. “We expect continued development of those claims and the establishment of new mines over the next 20 years.”

Salazar said “cautious development with strong oversight” could help to answer questions about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area. “This science, derived from experience, would help others decide what actions are necessary to protect the Grand Canyon.”

Copyright Environment News Service,ENS, 2011. All rights reserved.