By Andrew Restuccia - 01/09/12 07:05 PM EST
The Obama administration will ban new uranium mining on 1 million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon, the Interior Department announced Monday.
“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,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release.
The ban prevents new uranium mining claims in the region, but does not halt projects that have already been approved or have existing mining rights. Interior said the ban will allow scientists to monitor the effect of uranium mining on water quality.
“The Obama Administration is putting politics above American jobs and American energy security by blocking mining on what is the most uranium-rich land in the United States,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said in a news release. “Safe and responsible mining of this land could have produced thousands of high paying, family wage mining jobs.
“The United States is already 90 percent dependent on foreign sources of uranium and this decision only exacerbates our foreign dependence by locking up our own clean energy resources.”
Environmental and conservation groups applauded the decision.
“Extending the current moratorium on new uranium mining claims will protect tourism related jobs, drinking water for millions downstream, and critical wildlife habitat,” League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said in a news release. “This is a huge win for conservation and the countless Americans who enjoy the Grand Canyon’s natural splendor each year.”
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management estimated that 11 uranium mines that have already secured rights on the land will be able to operate under the ban. About 30 mines would have operated in the region during the next two decades without the ban, BLM said.
BLM Director Bob Abbey pushed back Monday against GOP claims that the ban will cost jobs.
“The withdrawal maintains the pace of hardrock mining, particularly uranium, near the Grand Canyon, but also gives the Department a chance to monitor the impacts associated with uranium mining in this area,” Abbey said in a news release.
Interior estimated that mining jobs in the region will “increase or remain flat as compared to the current level” under the 20-year ban.
Salazar announced in June that he would extend an existing ban on new uranium mining in the region by six months while he mulled the 20-year proposal — which Interior called its “preferred alternative.”