WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday officially announced a 20-year moratorium on uranium and other hard rock mining on 1 million acres of public land surrounding the Grand Canyon.
The decision was hailed by environmentalists but decried by conservatives such as Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
"It is unconscionable that the administration has once again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people," Bishop said. "While I am disappointed that the administration has again allowed politics to usurp sound science, I am not surprised."
Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee, said the moratorium withdraws from production 40 percent of the nation's uranium resources and could derail $29 million in potential economic revenue.
He added that the department's own environmental analysis found insufficient information about the risk to public lands from mining, but the administration ignored science and rushed ahead with the ban.
"In light of these findings, or lack thereof, there is clearly not enough evidence to justify this radical decision."
But Salazar, who said the official agency action was supported by the findings of an environmental impact statement, said protection of the vast natural resources surrounding Grand Canyon National Park is critical.
“A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape,” Salazar said. “People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon. Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water, irrigation, industrial and environmental use."
Salazar said such a ban is the appropriate path to safeguard the park for future generations.
The ban, the longest allowed by law and only impacting new claims, was widely praised by a number of national and local environmental groups.
"I support the administration's decision to follow the example of President Theodore Roosevelt, who established what is now the Grand Canyon National Park and urged Americans to keep this American treasure for their children and children's children," said Philip Carlson, the Utah representative of Republicans for Environmental Protection.
Groups such as the Grand Canyon Trust, the Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society said the destruction that accompanies hard-rock mining goes beyond environmental impacts such as contamination of water and soil and threats to native wildlife.
"By industrializing the Grand Canyon region and risking permanent pollution of its soil and water resources, uranium mining would also threaten the Southwest's robust tourism economy, for which Grand Canyon National Park is the primary economic engine," the groups said in a press release.
Outdoor Industry estimates that 82,000 jobs in Arizona are supported by outdoor recreation, with nearly $350 million generated in state tax revenue.
"Uranium mining is a dirty, dirty business that leaves a toxic and radioactive trail of impacts that cannot be easily contained," said Bobby McEnaney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "While today's decision does not directly address the systemic threats associated with the uranium mining industry has a whole, Salazar has at the very least established a line in the sand: that there are places too great to allow such destructive practices to persist."
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company