Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon

Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon
© Arizona Wildlife Federation

Interior Department officials say they are "disappointed" by a recent billboard ad campaign by environmentalist groups decrying uranium drilling near the Grand Canyon, saying the group is wasting its money.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift on Tuesday tweeted that Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeTrump visits Arlington National Cemetery for wreath-laying Zinke blames 'false' attacks in resignation GOP lawmaker jokes about Trump's next Interior chief: It's going to be Mulvaney MORE was "disappointed" in the groups' actions.

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"@SecretaryZinke is disappointed to see such a tremendous waste of precious conservation dollars," Swift tweeted.

Adding, "The Secretary has no intention to revisit uranium mining in and around the canyon and has made exactly zero moves to suggest otherwise."

Conservation groups the Arizona Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited paid for the billboard ads that went up Monday protesting recent reports that the Interior Department is exploring reopening the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas to uranium mining.

The billboards read: "Secretary Zinke: Save the Grand Canyon from Uranium mining."

“We need better science about the complicated, fractured geology of the Grand Canyon before opening it again to uranium mining,” said Nate Rees, Arizona coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, in a statement.

“Hunters and anglers are asking the administration to keep current protections in place until we know with certainty that mining won’t degrade the canyon’s invaluable fish and wildlife resources, pollute our water supply and undercut our state’s booming recreation economy.”

The billboard campaign follows recent actions by the Trump administration that indicate an interest in re-exploring uranium mining in the national park.

In May the Interior Department added uranium to its list of "critical minerals." Despite a 20-year federal moratorium on the mining of uranium in the U.S. instituted in 2012 by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar under the Obama administration, the actions have left many on edge wondering if the ban will soon be overturned.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, wrote a letter to Zinke following the decision asking for the methodology they used to add uranium to the list.

"Given this administration’s commitment to fighting ‘secret science,’ it is particularly hypocritical for [Interior] to hide the data showing how noncritical minerals (as identified by the USGS screening tool) were added to the critical minerals list," Grijalva said in his letter.

Zinke was given until this week to respond.

Under his tenure, Zinke has frequently expressed his desire to lift barriers prohibiting drilling on public lands and has mentioned the need to invest in more critical mineral mining.

Scott Garlid, conservation director at Arizona Wildlife Federation, said he was encouraged by the Interior spokeswoman's tweet Tuesday but hoped to see a more formal decree.

"While sportsmen are encouraged by the tweet from an Interior Department staff member stating that Secretary Zinke supports the current uranium mining moratorium, the gravity of this issue demands a more thorough and public response from the Secretary himself," Garlid said in a statement to The Hill.

"We look forward to hearing a clear and public statement from Secretary Zinke that he opposes the Congressional Western Caucus's letter and that he supports the existing moratorium and will keep it in place."

This story has been updated 1:15 p.m.