GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar finalized a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon Jan. 9.
The decision allows existing uranium and other hard rock mining operations in the region to continue but bans new claims. In 2009, Salazar suspended new uranium claims on public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon for two years.
Salazar announced the decision at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington on Monday afternoon. He also hosted the premiere of a short film on the history and preservation of the Grand Canyon to be shown to visitors to the Canyon.
In June, Salazar announced his recommendation to extend the mining ban against the scenic backdrop of the Grand Canyon's South Rim at Mather Point.
"Like our ancestors, we do not know how future Americans will enjoy, experience and benefit from this place," Salazar said. "That's one of the many reasons why wisdom, caution and science should guide our protection of the Grand Canyon."
Environmental groups have strongly supported the ban, claiming the mining could contaminate the Canyon's watershed. But, mining industry representatives say new mining practices pose no environmental dangers.
Some GOP legislators, including Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who represents Arizona's Sixth District, claim uranium mining would provide necessary job stimulus.
"Uranium mining outside of Grand Canyon National Park can create jobs and stimulate the economy in northern Arizona without jeopardizing the splendor and natural beauty within the park," Flake said in July. "The Obama administration is stepping on Arizona's economy and overstepping in terms of government regulations by banning new uranium mining claims in northern Arizona."
Roger Clark, with the Grand Canyon Trust said the landmark decision closes the door on rampant industrialization of Grand Canyon's watersheds.
"Uranium mining imposes well documented and unacceptable risks to the people and natural resources of our region," he said.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said the ban is yet another instance of the federal government engaging in excessive and unnecessary regulation, impeding the creation of jobs and economic growth.
"The 20-year ban comes at the expense of hundreds of high-paying jobs and approximately $10 billion worth of activity for the Arizona economy," she said. "Our state has years of experience with uranium mining in northern Arizona. Further, both the Arizona Geological Survey and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have submitted findings that uranium mining - conducted lawfully and with proper oversight - represents a minimal environmental risk to the Grand Canyon and Colorado River."
Brewer added she believes environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive.
The ban will not affect more than 3,000 mining claims already staked near the Grand Canyon.
The Bush administration previously opened up the land to new mining claims. Salazar reversed the Bush policy in 2009, calling for a two-year moratorium on new mining claims around the Canyon. A six-month extension was announced last year.