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House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon

House passes bill to prohibit mining near Grand Canyon
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The House passed legislation Wednesday that would ban mining near the Grand Canyon, a move designed to counter any efforts by the Trump administration to bolster the uranium industry by mining on federal lands.

The bill, which passed 236-185, would make permanent a mining moratorium on more than 1 million acres in northern Arizona surrounding the iconic national park.

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Democrats see the bill as a vital step toward protecting sensitive habitat near the Grand Canyon from the “imminent threat” of mining. But Republicans argued the bill would stifle economic opportunities for the rural areas of the state.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and author of the legislation, said plans to jump-start mining in the area are “not theoretical and not trivial.”

“These critical protections are under threat from the Trump administration under the guise of energy dominance and fabricated arguments of national security they’ve continued to push for these lands to be opened to exploitation on behalf of a few wealthy mining interests,” he said Tuesday during House floor debate.

Grijalva’s bill, the Grand Canyon Centennial Act, does not have companion legislation in the Senate, and the White House issued a veto threat, saying the administration opposes "such a large, permanent withdrawal, which would prohibit environmentally responsible development."

Democrats have argued the U.S. does not need to tap into U.S. uranium reserves since many imports of the mineral come from allies such as Canada and Australia.

“National security experts said this fear mongering about supplies is based on fantasy,” Grijalva said Tuesday. “We shouldn't be mining for uranium around the Grand Canyon. Period.”

Republicans argued that Democrats have been exaggerating the risks to the Grand Canyon.

They unsuccessfully fought to delay enactment until the Department of the Interior issued a report concluding that such enactment would not increase imports "from hostile countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Namibia."

Rep. Bruce WestermanBruce Eugene WestermanOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler Bruce Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Republicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees | Peterson loss prompts scramble for House Agriculture chair MORE (R-Ark.) said much of the land that would be protected isn’t close to the park.

"This bill is very cleverly named to make it sound like it's safeguarding the Grand Canyon, something I believe we all support," Westerman said on the House floor Tuesday. "But when we look at what it does, we quickly see it has very little to do with the Grand Canyon. Instead, it’s a federal land grab that would lock up approximately 1 million acres of land in northern Arizona and permanently ban mineral development."

A White House working group tasked with examining uranium supplies is taking into consideration a Cold War-era law that, if invoked, mandates the federal government buy uranium for enrichment for national security purposes.

The group's recommendations, expected next month, could prompt the White House to lift a 2012 mining moratorium that protected nearly 1,562 square miles outside the boundaries of the Grand Canyon for 20 years.

Republicans see mining opportunities as a path for communities surrounding the Grand Canyon, particularly Native American ones, to focus their economies on more than just tourism.

Rep. Paul GosarPaul Anthony GosarOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler Bruce Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee Democrat O'Halleran wins reelection in Arizona House race MORE (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday repeatedly stressed the environmental safety measures in mining as well as the potential to lift economically depressed areas.

“I’m not here to turn my back on Native Americans who are empowered instead of victimized,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would permanently protect land near New Mexico's Chaco Canyon from oil and gas development with a 245-174 vote.