Administration Bans Uranium Mining In Northern Arizona


Interior Secretary Ken Salazar just announced a 20-year ban on new uranium mining operations in northern Arizona, ostensibly out of concern for contaminating the water in the Grand Canyon tourist area, although Interior’s own analysis found no conclusive evidence that such a risk existed. 

Testifying before the House Natural Resources, National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands subcommittee, Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey said the draft report stated “there was incomplete and unavailable information that added uncertainty to the analysis and cited potential risk from mining.”  This was good enough to pull the trigger on the uranium mining industry.  The area covered by the ban contains 40% of America’s domestic uranium resources, according to a statement from the House subcommittee.  Up to a thousand jobs and $29 million in revenue could be at stake, and the nuclear power industry needs that uranium.

Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) of the House Natural Resources subcommittee was angered by the Interior Department’s decision:

It is unconscionable that the Administration has yet again caved to political pressure from radical special interest groups rather than standing up for the American people.  Banning access to the most uranium rich land in the United States will be overwhelmingly detrimental to both jobs in Utah and Arizona and our nation’s domestic energy security.  While I’m disappointed that the Administration has again allowed politics to usurp sound science, unfortunately I am not surprised.

The Administration spent nearly three years conducting an extensive study on the impact of mining in the region, done in addition to many other past studies, which resulted in ‘incomplete and unavailable information’.  In light of these findings, or lack thereof, there is clearly not enough evidence to justify this radical decision.  Lacking the scientific evidence to support this ban, the Administration opted to bypass congress in order to unilaterally impose bad policy. 

It’s a pattern we’ve come to expect from the President.  When he and his cabinet want to enact their radical political agenda, they often do so without public input or consideration for those who will be harmed the most.  As history has proven, production of our abundant domestic resources and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive.  We can achieve both for the benefit of all. 

As we have done to address so many other inanely wrongheaded decisions that have come from this Administration, we’ll fight this one too.  I will work with my colleagues in both the House and the Senate to ensure that the Administration is held accountable for ignoring the priorities of the American people.

According to a report from Reuters, left-wing groups applauded the decision:

“One of the things President (Barack)Obama’s going to be remembered for is protecting the Grand Canyon,” said Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group, a non-profit organization that has pushed for the mining moratorium.

“Despite considerable pushback from the industry and even some in Congress, he didn’t punt and he didn’t blink and he went and issued the longest moratorium that he could under his executive authority,” Danowitz said in a telephone interview.

The Pew group, the League of Conservation Voters and the Center for American Progress applauded the decision as protecting the Colorado River watershed, which supplies drinking water for 25 million people.

The main health risk from uranium mining is water contamination.

Grand Canyon tourism generates $687 million in annual revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, and creates more than 12,000 full-time jobs, the University of Northern Arizona said in a 2005 study.

“Do you want mining in the vicinity of a tourist destination that’s visited by 5 million people every year?” Danowitz said. “No, I think is the answer.”

That wasn’t the question.  The question was whether the uranium mining operations actually posed a threat to the watershed, not whether contaminating it would be undesirable.  Instead of a sober discussion of the risk factors, we get big, scary numbers about how many people drink from the local water supply, and how much money the tourism industry generates.  There are already uranium mines in the area, and the new moratorium doesn’t shut them down, but somehow tourists are overcoming their fear of being eaten by giant radioactive scorpions and visiting the Grand Canyon.

There are situations when jobs, income, and resources might need to be sacrificed in the name of public health, but nothing about this particular Interior action seems like a careful measurement of risk and consequence.  It sounds more like an easy way to curry favor with extremist groups, coupled with this Administration’s default stance of shutting down any exploitation of energy resources that could slow down the big solar panel and electric car transformation they are so eager to impose on Americans.  Besides, uranium is scary, and fear is always a reliable solvent for reason.