U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finalized a 20-year ban on new mining claims on public land near the Grand Canyon in Arizona and Jan. 9.
Despite saying uranium plays an important role in a comprehensive energy strategy in the past Salazar went ahead with the ban which impacts uranium mining the greatest.
The Grand Canyon attracts more than 4 million visitors a year and generates an estimated $3.5 billion in economic activity, Salazar said. Millions of Americans living in cities such as Phoenix and Los Angeles rely on the Colorado River for clean drinking water.
“Like our ancestors, we do not know how future Americans will enjoy, experience and benefit from this place,” Salazar said at a speech in June outlining plans to limit new mining claims near the site. “And that’s one of the many reasons why wisdom, caution and science should guide our protection of the Grand Canyon.”
Conservation groups call the 20-year ban a crucial protection for an American icon. The mining industry and some Republican members of Congress say it is detrimental to Arizona’s economy and the nation’s energy independence.
Republican members of Arizona’s congressional delegation have lambasted temporary bans imposed by Salazar in 2009 and again last year. They say a permanent ban on the filing of new mining claims would eliminate hundreds of jobs and unravel decades of responsible resource development. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-AZ., and other GOP lawmakers are backing legislation to prevent Salazar from moving forward with the 20-year ban, The Associated Press reported.
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.
As outlined in October, the ban would not affect more than 3,000 mining claims already staked in the area near the Grand Canyon.
The Bush administration had opened up the land to new mining claims. Salazar reversed the Bush policy in 2009 and called for a two-year moratorium on new mining claims around the canyon. He followed up with a six-month extension in 2010.
Supporters of the ban say any increase in mining jobs is not worth risks to the Colorado River, lands considered sacred by American Indian tribes or wildlife habitat. A mining mishap also could be disastrous for tourism in one of the nation's most-visited parks.