Environment & Science

20-year ban put on mining claims near Grand Canyon

The Obama administration banned uranium mining near the Grand Canyon for the next 20 years.
The Obama administration banned uranium mining near the Grand Canyon for the next 20 years.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Grand Canyon must be protected, even if uranium deposits nearby could be important to the nation's energy strategy. Critics say the decision will eliminate jobs and that mining can be done responsibly.

The Obama administration just announced a 20-year federal ban "on new mining claims affecting a million acres near the Grand Canyon, an area known to be rich in high-grade uranium ore reserves," as The Associated Press writes.

"In doing so, the administration brushed off pressure from congressional Republicans and mining industry figures who wanted a policy change."

In a statement, the Department of the Interior says that Secretary Ken Salazar's decision will "provide adequate time for monitoring to inform future land use decisions in this treasured area, while allowing currently approved mining operations to continue as well as new operations on valid existing mining claims."

"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," Salazar says in that statement.

But, as the AP writes, "Republican members of Arizona's congressional delegation have lambasted temporary bans imposed by Salazar in 2009 and again last year. They say a ban on the filing of new mining claims would eliminate hundreds of jobs and unravel decades of responsible resource development."

Meanwhile, "environmental groups call the ban a long-awaited but decisive victory, noting that the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon, is the source of drinking water for 26 million Americans."

According to Interior's statement:

"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."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio.