Grand Canyon Uranium Mining Banned

Daily News Article   —   Posted on January 11, 2012

Ken Salazar stands in front of a map of the Grand Canyon as he announces a 20-year ban on new mining claims.

(by Valerie Richardson, – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed a 20-year moratorium Monday on new uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon region over the objections of Western Republicans, who insisted the ban would deliver an unnecessary blow to the Northern Arizona economy.

The moratorium…represents “a serious and necessary step” to protect the [famous] canyon and the watershed, said Mr. Salazar. Four million people visit the mile-deep canyon each year.

“A withdrawal is the right approach for this priceless American landscape,” Mr. Salazar said in remarks before the National Geographic Society. “We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources, and we have chosen a responsible path that makes sense for this and future generations.”

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other Republicans immediately denounced the order, saying that it would cripple economic activity and energy production despite evidence that yellowcake uranium had been mined safely in the region for years.

“This is yet another instance of the federal government engaging in excessive and unnecessary regulation, which is impeding the creation of jobs and economic growth,” Mrs. Brewer said in a statement. “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.”

Protecting the Grand Canyon area’s environment and expanding the local economy “are not mutually exclusive [they can occur at the same time]. We could and should have both,” she said.

The [Interior Secretary’s] order withdraws 1 million acres for 20 years from new mining claims, but does not prohibit previously approved uranium mining or other natural resource development, including mineral leasing, geothermal leasing and mineral materials sales.

As many as 11 uranium mines could still operate during the 20-year moratorium, including four that have already been approved but are not yet operating. Without the ban, the department estimated that 30 uranium mines could be developed over the next 20 years, with as many as six operating at one time, according to the [Interior] Department’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

“The withdrawal maintains the pace of hardrock mining, particularly uranium, near the Grand Canyon, but also gives the department a chance to monitor the impacts associated with uranium mining in this area,” Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said.

Environmental groups cheered the move as an important protection for both the popular tourist attraction and the vital Colorado River basin. The river, which runs through the canyon, delivers water to 26 million people in seven states, raising the stakes for any contamination that could result from a mining accident.

“We strongly applaud the Obama administration’s decision to protect one million acres around the iconic Grand Canyon from dirty and dangerous uranium mining,” said the League of Conservation Voters in a statement. “This is a huge win for conservation and the countless Americans who enjoy the Grand Canyon’s natural splendor each year.”

Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, said the decision represented a cave-in to environmental groups at the risk of the nation’s energy supply. He said the uranium being withdrawn from production amounts to 40 percent of the nation’s domestic uranium resources.

“It is unconscionable that the administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical [extreme] special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people,” Congressman Bishop said.

He noted that Mr. Abbey [Bureau of Land Management Director] had testified that the [Environmental Impact Study] found that “there was incomplete and unavailable information” about the mining’s potential risk.

“In light of these findings, or lack thereof, there is clearly not enough evidence to justify this radical decision,” Mr. Bishop said. “Lacking the scientific evidence to support this ban, the administration opted to bypass [chose to ignore] Congress to unilaterally impose bad policy.”

In October, Western Republicans introduced the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011, which would have blocked the administration from imposing a uranium-mining moratorium.

Copyright 2012 The Washington Times, LLC.  Reprinted from The Washington Times for educational purposes only.  Visit the website at


1.  Define the following words as used in the article:

  • moratorium (from para. 1)
  • uranium (from para. 1)
  • denounced (from para. 4)
  • impeding (from para. 5)
  • Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (from para. 8)
  • unconscionable (from para. 13)
  • unilaterally (from para. 15)

2.  What does/doesn’t Secretary Salazar’s moratorium include?

3.  Why has Secretary Salazar placed a 20 year moratorium on new uranium mining claims in the Grand Canyon region?

4.  For what reasons are Republicans like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer opposed to a moratorium on uranium mining? Be specific.

5.  How does Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop view the decision to impose the moratorium?

6.  Do you support Secretary Salazar’s decision?  Explain your answer.
Consider the following points of view in your response:

  • What motivation do uranium mining companies have to prevent accidents at their mines?
  • If opponents to uranium mining really believe uranium mining is as terrible as they say, do you think they would ban 100% of uranium mining if they could?  And if so, how would this affect the average American?
  • Uranium is used in nuclear power plants, which supply about 20% of the U.S.’s electricity.  The Grand Canyon area contains as much as 40% of the U.S.’s known uranium resources.  Would you be willing to limit the electricity your household receives, reducing the amount you will have available to power air conditioning in the summer, TVs, computers, refrigerators and dishwashers, cell phones, video games, etc.?
  • If uranium is in plentiful supply, should the government permit or ban mining companies from retrieving it?
  • In the long run, will this decision increase energy prices for all Americans?
  • Imposing a moratorium on new mines could minimize the chances of an accident occurring.
  • Preserving our environment is more important than a few jobs.
  • Nuclear energy is too dangerous.  All nuclear power plants should be shut down. Alternative energy sources should be found.
  • There are uranium mines still in operation – and what they don’t supply, we can buy from Canada or other uranium producing countries.

Free Answers — Sign-up here to receive a daily email with answers.


Background: (from the Chairman of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee response to Secretary Salazar’s moratorium)

Since July 2009 the Obama Administration has imposed a unilateral moratorium on new uranium mining on one million acres of land in Arizona. This Arizona strip contains the highest-grade known uranium deposits remaining in the United States, representing 40 percent of our nation’s domestic uranium resources.

The Administration’s decision to withdraw these areas from uranium mining terminates a long-standing agreement, forged through compromise between mining interest and environmental groups, and carried out through bipartisan legislation that became law in 1984. The agreement allowed certain areas in Arizona to be protected through Wilderness designations, while others were to remain open for uranium production.

In April 2011, the Arizona Geological Survey wrote a letter to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer with a report on the safety of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. The study concluded that:

  • “Even the most implausible accident would increase the amount of uranium in the Colorado River by an amount that is undetectable over amounts of uranium that are normally carried by the river from erosion of geologic deposits.”
  • “Even if the entire annual uranium production from an operating mine were somehow implausibly dumped into the river, the resulting increase in uranium concentration in river water would increase from 4.0 to 12.8 parts per billion (ppb) for one year, which is still far below the 30 ppb EPA Maximum Contaminant Level.”
  • “We believe the fears of uranium contamination of the Colorado River from mining accidents are minor and transitory compared to the amounts of uranium that are naturally and continually eroded into the river.”