Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s teaser on Friday that he will “make a major announcement regarding Grand Canyon National Park” today has prompted speculation he’ll address the expiration of a two-year ban on new uranium mining claims that he imposed in 2009.
The fact that Salazar is holding a press conference at the Grand Canyon at 12:30 mountain time today with Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management, Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, and Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey, would seem to suggest they’re not just there to admire the iconic views.
The hope among conservation groups, which have been running ad campaigns urging an extension of Salazar’s 1-million-acre moratorium, is that he’ll make it permanent, thereby putting a halt to rampant uranium mining speculation that saw a 2,000-percent increase in new claims between 2005 and 2009.
Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group’s U.S. public-lands program, issued this statement to the media on Friday:
“We are hopeful that the Obama administration will take decisive action on Monday to give the Grand Canyon the long-term protection it deserves. This is an important opportunity for the president to demonstrate much-needed leadership on behalf of our public lands and the environment.”
The Grand Canyon is viewed by many as simply too great of a national treasure to risk polluting the surrounding environs with a new uranium rush fueled by need for forms of power that don’t spew as much carbon into the atmosphere as coal, oil and gas.
But a ban on new mining in northern Arizona could ratchet up the pressure to mine more of Colorado’s abundant uranium supplies. Colorado U.S. Sen. Mark Udall is a proponent of nuclear power as a greater part of the mix in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and though he sounded a more cautionary note after the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, he still favors that approach.
Pueblo officials recently rejected a proposal for a new nuclear power plant there, while conservation groups in western Colorado continue to battle approvals for a proposed uranium processing mill that would be the first such facility in the United States in nearly three decades.
Colorado’s other U.S. senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, seems a little less enthusiastic about nuclear power than Udall, recently sending a letter to the EPA urging the federal agency to take local concerns into consideration in reviewing the mill proposal.
Colorado has a long history of mining and producing some of the yellowcake that went into the nation’s first nuclear weapons, as well fuel rods for nuclear power plants around the world, but it also has a legacy of toxic cleanups associated with the industry that have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.