Obama Rightly Sets 20-Year Moratorium On Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon

The Obama administration has riled up Republican lawmakers by banning new uranium mining claims on a million acres of land around the Grand Canyon in Arizona, known to be rich in high-grade uranium reserves.

The decision, announced on Monday by the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salzar, restricts hard-rock mining of a million acres for 20-years, the longest moratorium allowed by law. Banning mining of the radioactive mineral is an environmentally sound decision as it diminishes potential pollution in waterways, chiefly the already beleaguered Colorado River and limits harm to wildlife and air quality.

Conservationists and recreationists are applauding President Barack Obama’s decision but Republicans and industry groups have opposed the ban on the basis that it will hurt consumers as well as American jobs and American energy security. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) lambasted the ban as a “devastating blow to jobs creation in northern Arizona.” Ken Sumsion, a candidate for Utah’s governor this year, said “when the federal government locks up these natural resources, basically they’re locking up funds coming in our education fund.”

As Salzar makes clear though, “withdrawal is the right approach.” The Grand Canyon is considered sacrosanct among numerous American Indian tribes and the Colorado River is an indispensible source for drinking water and irrigation for millions of people along the river basin. Water contamination is a serious hazard and continued mining at the expense of environmental degradation is detrimental to future generations.

The claim that Obama’s ban is a job-killer is also erroneous. A 2005 study by the Universityof Northern Arizona shows that Grand Canyon tourism generates $687 million in annual revenue and creates more than 12,000 full-time jobs. Following his decision, many environmentalists are echoing the sentiments of Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group, who said, “One of the things president Obama’s going to be remembered for is protecting the Grand Canyon.”

Photo Credit: Moyan_Brenn