Houses passes legislation that would permanently ban uranium mining near the Grand Canyon

October 31, 2019

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act, a bill that would make the 2012 ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon permanent.

The legislation, introduced by Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva is designed as a preemptive strike against the perceived threat of forthcoming recommendations from The White House's Nuclear Fuel Working Group. The group of government officials could recommend mining uranium near the Grand Canyon, KNAU reported.

Supporters of the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act have argued that the bill is necessary to shield the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining on the watershed, environment and public health.

Opponents of the bill point to potential jobs that could come from mining and have argued that mining can done safely.

In 2017, President Trump began signaling support for renewed uranium mining near the Grand Canyon with a decision to declare uranium a critical mineral for national security purposes. And earlier this year, the Commerce Department recommended mining reserves of uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons.

The Hill reported that by July, the White House was putting together a working group to advise on methods of maintaining a strong nuclear fuel supply chain.

The Nuclear Fuel Working Group, which has postponed its recommendations until mid-November, is including in their considerations a Cold War-era law that mandates the federal government buy uranium for enrichment for national security purposes. Uranium mining and utility industries argue the government is risking national security by relying on foreign governments for its uranium needs.

“We’re hoping for immediate relief. ... We need long term demand that supports a viable front in nuclear fuel cycle, mining, conversion and enrichment,” said Mark Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels, the largest uranium producer in the U.S.

The Havasupai Tribe supports the bill and says uranium mining pollution threatens the seeps and springs of the Grand Canyon including their sole water source. In addition, all five Democratic House members from Arizona co-sponsored the legislation.

Arizona Republican Paul Gosar, however, is a longtime critic of the uranium ban and the bill. He says it’s an attempt to cripple America’s mining industry, and that it poses no threat to water sources or the Grand Canyon.

Grijalva’s bill, though, is likely dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate. There is no companion legislation in the upper chamber, even though his measure has support from some White House hopefuls.
 

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