Biden to designate a new national monument surrounding the Grand Canyon

August 8, 2023

President Joe Biden was set to announce a historic national park designation for approximately 917,000 acres of public land near the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The designation effectively blocks future mining of uranium from the area and conserves the lands that are sacred to Tribal nations. The administration said the designation advances “Biden’s historic climate and conservation agenda.”

However, the designation does not stop all mining activity in the region. A White House fact sheet said the national monument designation “recognizes and respects valid existing rights,” noting existing mining claims – predating a 20-year mineral withdraw initiated in 2012 – will remain in place, and the two approved mining operations within the boundaries of the monument would be able to operate.

Fox News reported that a senior administration official further told reporters the 20-year mineral withdrawal remains in effect, so the national monument designation “will preserve the status quo by not allowing new mining claims to be put into effect.”

“Just backing out the broader picture here is that this area represents about 1.3 percent of the nation’s known and understood uranium reserves,” the official said. “So there are significant resources in other parts of the country that will remain accessible.”

Steve Trussell, executive director of the Arizona Mining Association, said in an email to the Washington Post that uranium mines in the state are “extremely low impact (less than 15 acres of total surface disturbance), though they produce massive amounts of clean energy” and that they “reduce imports of uranium from Russia.”

In 2012, the Interior Department enacted a 20-year moratorium on the filing of new mining claims around the national park. Yet, a U.S. Geological Survey in 2021 found most springs and wells in a vast region of northern Arizona known for its high-grade uranium ore meet federal drinking water standards despite decades of uranium mining. Mining companies and the areas that would benefit from their business remain vehemently opposed to the national monument designation.

Curtis Moore, senior vice president of marketing and corporate development for Energy Fuels, told the Washington Post that while a national monument designation wouldn’t affect the company’s existing Pinyon Plain uranium mine, it would prevent future mines that are needed to halt climate change and Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine.

“These are small underground mines, but a lot of energy comes out them,” he said, “and it’s energy that we need to address some of these daunting issues that the world is facing.”

Other mining claims are grandfathered in. The federal government has said nearly a dozen mines within the area that have been withdrawn from new mining claims could still potentially open, even with the monument designation, because their claims were established before 2012.

The announcement comes ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping climate, tax, and health care law.
The Biden administration will also announce $44 million "to strengthen climate resilience across America’s iconic National Parks system, including 43 projects across 39 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands."

Photo credit: Shutterstock


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