BLM backs 20-year uranium mining ban near Grand Canyon

GOP lawmakers continue attempts to block one million acre withdrawal of federal lands to new mining claims

ST. GEORGE, Utah - The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public review Oct. 27. The Final EIS analyzes the potential effects of withdrawing federal lands near the Grand Canyon in Arizona from new uranium mining claims under the 1872 Mining Law and identifies a preferred alternative that would withdraw about 1 million acres, subject to valid existing rights.

A withdrawal would prevent individuals and companies from staking new mining claims; however, currently approved operations could continue and new operations could be approved on valid existing mining claims.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said uranium, like oil and gas, solar, wind, geothermal and other resources, remains a vital component of a responsible and comprehensive energy plan for the United States but that special care needs to be taken near the Grand Canyon.

"Uranium remains an important part of our nation's comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure," Abbey said. "The preferred alternative would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area."

In June 2011, based on BLM analysis that began in 2009 and nearly 300,000 comments from the public, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar directed BLM to identify the preferred alternative in the EIS as Alternative B, the Proposed Action, which would withdraw about 1 million acres of federal land in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon for 20 years from the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights. The Final EIS estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years under the preferred alternative, including the four mines currently approved.

Republican lawmakers have spoken out against the ban claiming it would hinder important job growth in the region.

Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, representing Arizona's Sixth District, along with Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-02) introduced in the House the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011 on Oct. 12 in an effort to prevent the moratorium on new mining.

In a recent statement, Flake said uranium can be mined safely with little environmental impact.

"Uranium mining in northern Arizona can create jobs without tarnishing the splendor of the Grand Canyon, which is why many of Arizona's federal, state, and local officials oppose this lands withdrawal," he said. "Banning new uranium mining claims in northern Arizona will overturn respected public lands management agreements and will certainly stymie job growth in Arizona."

The BLM is the lead agency that, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service, prepared the Final EIS, which will be used to support a final decision by the Secretary of the Interior on the proposed withdrawal. The Final EIS responds to hundreds of thousands of public comments on the Draft EIS released to the public on Feb. 18, 2011 (available at http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout/deis.html), and discloses the potential impacts that withdrawing the lands from location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law would have on the environment and natural and cultural resources.

In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act regulations, a notice published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Oct. 28 Federal Register initiates a 30-day review period after which the Secretary of Interior can make and issue a final decision.

In addition to analyzing the potential impacts of the Proposed Action, the Final EIS has analyzed three other alternatives to the proposed action. In all of the alternatives, any withdrawal would be subject to valid existing rights.

Alternative A is the No Action Alternative, under which no withdrawal would occur and mineral exploration and mining would continue throughout the study area in accordance with existing BLM and Forest Service regulations and land use plans.

Information can be found at www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html or by calling (602) 417-9504 or (435) 688-3200.

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