In a move hailed as a major victory by environmentalists, the Obama administration on Monday set in motion a plan to ban uranium mining on more than one million acres around the Grand Canyon in Arizona for 20 years.
The move allows the Obama administration to maintain a tricky balance between pushing a conservation agenda and resisting slams from Republicans and the oil, gas, and mining industries, who say restricting public lands from energy exploration contributes to higher fuel prices and greater dependence on foreign sources of energy.
But this month, the administration came under fire from its allies in the environmental community when it reversed a plan to protect wilderness areas from oil and gas drilling.
The plan gives a major victory to conservationists without angering the nation’s most politically powerful energy extractors, oil and gas drillers. Environmentalists, led by the Pew Environment Group, The Wilderness Society, the mayors of Phoenix and Los Angeles, and tribal groups, have aggressively lobbied the administration to halt new uranium mining out of concern that it could damage drinking water and park water quality.
"It’s a big deal. There’s been a lot of pressure for this,” said Bill Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “It protects the water source and the integrity of the Grand Canyon—and [President Obama will] get a lot of praise from the environmental community.”
The plan follows a two-year moratorium on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon that expires next month. It was put in place in part because mining claims surrounding the park were skyrocketing. A report released last month by Pew used Bureau of Land Management data to show that uranium claims around Grand Canyon National Park increased 2,000 percent between 2005 and 2010.
Under the plan, 1 million acres of land in and around the Grand Canyon will be placed under a six-month emergency withdrawal from any future mining claims.
This article appears in the June 20, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.