(Corrects to remove reference to Skywalk in sixth paragraph of story published Jan. 10)
An Obama administration ban on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, the second most-visited U.S. national park, has touched off a debate over jobs from mining and tourism in a state that relies on both industries.
The ban “comes at the expense of hundreds of high-paying jobs and approximately $10 billion worth of activity for the Arizona economy,” Arizona Governor Janice K. Brewer, a Republican, said in a statement.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who signed the 20-year ban yesterday at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, said it was part of an effort to safeguard the $3.5 billion spent by visitors to the national park each year.
“Tourism, leisure are very much a part of job creation of the United States,” Salazar said. “The jobs associated to the Grand Canyon are not jobs that can be exported anywhere, those are truly American jobs.”
The ban will prevent new uranium and other hard-rock mining on about 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon National Park, which was visited by 4.5 million people in 2010, second to the Great Smoky Mountains. Previously approved mining and new projects on claims and sites with existing rights will be allowed, potentially leading to development of as many as 11 uranium mines, according to a statement from the Interior Department.
Large stretches of very remote desert land, including an area tourists pass through on their way to the popular North Rim, were put off limits.
Denison Mines Corp. (DML), Concentric Energy Corp. and Vane Minerals Plc (VML) own uranium mines in Arizona, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Denison’s operations are in the Grand Canyon area, about 200 miles north of Phoenix.
David Newton, chief executive officer of Vane Minerals, said in an e-mailed statement that the news “is disappointing, particularly given the strong local and regional support for mining from various governmental offices, it was not unexpected.”
The company has adjusted its business plan to focus on copper exploration as well as gold and silver activities in Mexico.
Praise From Environmentalists
The U.S. ban drew praise from environmentalists, such as the Pew Environmental Group that said the ban would help protect drinking water for 25 million people. Mining companies still have legal access to the majority of public lands in the western U.S., including national parks and forests, Jane Danowitz, who directs Pew Environment’s public-lands program, said in the statement.
Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said “The Grand Canyon is an economic engine for northern Arizona. Uranium mines are here today, gone tomorrow but the pollution they leave behind is here for a very long time.”
Representative Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, said the ban would keep the country dependent on foreign sources for uranium.
“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,” Bishop said in an e-mailed statement.
He was one of several Republicans who issued statements criticizing the ban and the job-creation record of President Barack Obama.
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and 10 other senators introduced legislation in October to block the Interior’s 20-year ban. The bill was assigned to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, headed by Jeff Bingaman a New Mexico Democrat, and hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.
In a press conference at the Arizona state Capitol in Phoenix, Republican Representative Paul Gosar predicted the ban would generate support for a companion bill in the House.
“By taking the action they did today, the administration undermines U.S. energy independence and the economic well-being of communities in my district and ultimately the nation for generations,” Gosar said.
Mohave County, which encompasses part of the Grand Canyon, will consider filing litigation to stop the ban with a coalition of other local governments, Buster Johnson, the Republican chairman of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, said in an interview.
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