Regional officials are jockeying for the Trump administration to dump an Obama-era ban on uranium mining that its supporters applauded for having closed "the door on rampant industrialization of Grand Canyon's watersheds."
That's according to exclusive reporting by the Guardian on Monday, which cites a letter from Arizona and Utah officials expected to be sent Monday to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose voting record left conservation groups questioning his concern for public lands.
The letter argues that the "ban took away much needed growth and jobs from our area," and claims that "the mining of uranium does not affect ground water nor destroy the natural resources of the land"—though critics of the extraction say abundance evidence, including U.S. Geological Survey studies, proves otherwise.
The 20-year ban on new uranium mining was put in place in 2012 by the Obama administration. Though the ban withstood a 2014 challenge in a federal court, it was left vulnerable by the Obama administration, as it failed to make the ban permanent by designating the area a monument—an idea with broad bipartisan support.
Conservation group Grand Canyon Trust wrote last month that the temporary hold was "in danger, whether it be from attacks by the Trump administration, Congress, or the National Mining Association," saying opponents could "come at it with everything they've got," thereby contributing to a legacy of groundwater contamination such extractions leaves behind, a problem felt acutely by the Havasupai people, who've lived in the area for hundreds of years.
The Guardian writes:
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The new appeal to the Trump administration appears in the draft of a letter expected to be sent on Monday to the US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, by the Mohave County board of supervisors, whose region borders the north side of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Similar letters are being drawn up by other regional leaders in neighboring county governments in southern Utah, to be sent to Washington by the end of the week, according to officials.
The officials from Mohave County are pushing for extraction beyond uranium, as they
also plan to dispatch a second letter on Monday asking the federal government to scrap national monument protections for lands of natural wonder "throughout Arizona," claiming their designation is unconstitutional and prevents economic development of coal, oil, and gas deposits. Utah leaders will follow with letters requesting the government shrink national monuments in southern Utah, such as Bears Ears and Grand Escalante, in order to open up a greater area for mineral exploitation, the Guardian has learned.
The effort is no anomaly but "part of broader push by conservatives to roll back protections on America's 640m acres of public land," Joanna Walters writes, noting Zinke's lifting of a moratorium on federal coal leasing and Trump's order to Zinke that he review 27 national monuments to potentially rescind their designations.
The new reporting in the Guardian is the first installment of the news outlet's "This Land is Your Land" series launched "to hold politicians and corporate interests accountable for their environmental policies."