Committee puts hold on new mining claims on land near Grand Canyon

In a vote of 20-2, with Republicans absent in protest, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources voted last week to enact a little-used provision to place a moratorium on new mining claims on public lands around Grand Canyon.

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona's fourth district called for the vote approving a provision in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to order the Secretary of the Interior to remove public lands from mineral leasing for up to three years. He cited threats to the rare and natural landscape in and around the Grand Canyon as well as to nearby watersheds and the Colorado River as the reason for emergency action.

Utah. Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah left the room in protest, saying he would not be part of the process.

The resolution protects about 1 million acres on the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the Canyon, the Kanab Creek watershed north of the park and House Rock Valley, between Grand Canyon National Park and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Legislation (HR 5583) would make the protection permanent.

It does not address the more than 10,000 claims already held, including more than 2,000 on the Tusayan Ranger District alone. More sweeping reforms are being considered in revisions of the 1872 mining law, which governs claims and resource extraction on public land. Grijalva said that they hope a new administration will create a more favorable climate for advancing the changes.

He hosted a congressional field hearing in Flagstaff last spring, where he heard testimony from several Native American tribes, scientists, government land managers, officials from counties in northern Arizona and southern Utah and mining representatives. The 14 witnesses were overwhelmingly opposed to the uranium industry's return to the area. Speaking in favor were mining representatives and the Board of Supervisors of Kane County,

At the end of May, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality denied the Denison Mining Corp eight key aquifer protection permits needed for the operation of two uranium mines in the vicinity of Grand Canyon.

According to the ADEQ, the company can appeal the decision on their general APP or apply for individual permits.

In early April, a federal judge issued a restraining order to halt exploration by VANE Minerals pending a ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club. The plaintiffs argue that the Forest Service was wrong to use a categorical exclusion, the least rigorous level of environmental review, to grant the mining company the authorization to do exploratory drilling. They expect that the court will require the company to do a full environmental assessment.

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