U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imposed a 20-year ban on new uranium and other hardrock mining near the Grand Canyon National Park to protect the Colorado River basin.
“People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon,” Salazar said today in a statement distributed to reporters in Washington. “We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources.”
The ban applies to about 1 million acres of land in northern Arizona. Previously approved mining, and new projects on claims and sites with existing rights will be allowed, and may lead to the development of as many as 11 uranium mines over the next two decades, according to the statement. Mineral leasing and geothermal leasing will continue, the Interior Department said.
The ban will help protect drinking water for 25 million people, as well as the Grand Canyon’s $687 million tourism industry, Washington-based Pew Environment Group said in an e-mailed statement.
Other National Parks
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.
“We hope the Obama administration will work with Congress now to reform the 1872 Mining Law so that other American treasures are also protected,” Danowitz said.
Mining in northern Arizona poses no environmental threat and would create thousands of jobs, Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said in an e-mailed statement. Republican senators Mike Lee of Utah, John McCain of Arizona and John Barrasso of Wyoming, as well as Republican representatives Rob Bishop of Utah and Arizona’s Jeff Flake, David Schweikert and Ben Quayle also spoke against the move in the statement.