By Dorothy Kosich
GOP U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona, Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both of Utah, and Republican Congressmen Trent Franks, Jeff Flake, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert, and Ben Quayle, all of Arizona, and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, have introduced legislation to prevent the U.S. Department of Interior from withdrawing from mining and exploration of 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park.
The Obama Administration extended its emergency ban on new mining claims around the Grand Canyon National Park until Dec. 20, 2011. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has directed the Bureau of Land Management to publish a final impact statement this fall which identifies the full one million acre withdrawal from new hardrock mining claims as the preferred alternative in the final EIS.
In an Oct. 12 letter to Salazar, the lawmakers urged the interior secretary to reconsider moving forward with the proposed 20-year withdrawal. "We predict such a decision, if finalized, would kill hundreds of potential jobs in our states and erode the trust needed for diverse stakeholders to reach agreement on how to protect and manage public lands in the future," they said.
The legislators said they believe the draft EIS on the proposed withdrawal "actually demonstrates that uranium mineral development would cause little, if any, threat to the park or water quality in the region. Thus, we are concerned that this proposed withdrawal in more about social agencies and political pressure than about the best available science."
The lawmakers contend that Title III of the Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984 "has allowed sustainable uranium mining to co-exist with the protection of some of our most treasured natural resources." The Act designated over 1.1 million acres of wilderness on the Arizona Strip, while releasing another 540,000 acres of federal land for multiple-use development.
"If the decision is made to move forward with the proposed withdrawal, you will be casting aside that historic compromise and ignoring the land management plans developed through the land management planning process that identify the bulk of the proposed withdrawal area as open to uranium mineral development," they asserted.
"The proposed withdrawal is a "de facto wilderness' designation," the legislators argued. "It will unravel decades of responsible resource development on the Arizona Strip in a misguided effort to "save' the Grand Canyon from the same form of uranium mining that environmental groups once agreed to."
The senators and congressmen introduced the North Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011 (H.R. 3155), which will uphold the agreement embodied in the Arizona Wilderness Act of 1984 that designated parts of the Arizona Strip as wilderness and restore other lands to reasonable and safe uranium mining uses.
"Despite the fact that uranium mining efforts have for decades operated without impacting the environment or the beauty of our national parks, President Obama is nonetheless seeking to make 326 million-375 million pounds of the best quality uranium in the entire country off-limits, thus putting the desires of a handful of rabid environmentalists above America's long-term energy independence and national security," said Congressman Trent Franks.
Representative Paul Gosar said, "It is simply false and misleading to assert that if the Administration's withdrawal is not enacted, uranium mining will take place "in' the canyon or "in' the park. However without a doubt, if the Administration's proposed withdrawal is enacted, the potential for nearly $30 billion of economic growth opportunities-nearly $700 million annually and over a thousand well-paying jobs-will be eliminated."
"At a time when we are desperate for jobs and economic growth, this Administration continues to do everything in its power to implement the job-killing policies of fringe environmental groups," said Congressman David Schweikert. "This withdrawal is not so much a protection of the Grand Canyon, but a government land grab of economically fertile mining land."
"The withdrawal of one million acres of mining rights also reneges on a compromise between the federal government and the mining industry negotiated in good faith almost 30 years ago, setting an unwelcome precedent that could have future negative consequences," said Sen. Mike Lee.
H.R. 3155, which was introduced in the House on Wednesday, states the Secretary of the Interior "shall not extend, renew, or issue a notice of segregation or withdrawal of the public land and National Forest System land (including a portion of the land) described in Public Land Order 7773 (76 Fed. Reg. 37826 (June 28, 2011)...except by express authorization by Congress referencing this section and notwithstanding any other provision of the law..."