Ban on mining near Grand Canyon extended

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 20, 2011 4:28 PM
Ban on mining near Grand Canyon extended

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday extended its ban on mining on 1 million acres of federal lands near the Grand Canyon by six months, as it heads toward a possible long-term moratorium on mining in the area.

Concerns that uranium mining near the Grand Canyon could hurt water quality and tourism prompted the decision, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

"When you think about the millions of jobs that are created across America through our natural wonders, as well as through other aspects of our heritage (and) tourism, that ought to be what carries the day," Salazar said at a press conference.

In 2009, the department declared a two-year time-out on new mining claims in the area, which holds substantial uranium deposits, as the agency studied its options.

The six-month extension of the ban will ensure that no new mining projects are started in the area while the department finishes its final environmental review, the department said.

That environmental assessment is scheduled to be completed in the fall and then Salazar will make a decision on the long-term status of the federal lands.

The department said its preferred alternative would keep the entire area off-limits for new mining claims for 20 years.

By law, the department can withdraw these lands for no more than 20 years, while only Congress can permanently withdraw them.

Mining operations on existing claims will not be affected by the department's decision and will be allowed to continue.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)