GOP lawmakers begin attack against uranium mining withdrawal

Republican lawmakers today are staging the first -- but probably not the last -- battle in their war against the Obama administration's plan to limit new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon.

Today an Appropriations subcommittee is scheduled to vote on a spending bill that includes language prohibiting the administration from a long-term ban on new hardrock mining claims around the Grand Canyon National Park without the blessing of Congress.

The proposal comes just weeks after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced his intention to withdraw 1 million acres from new claims for 20 years, pending the completion of a formal review on the issue, a move that sparked strong reaction from lawmakers on Capitol Hill (E&E Daily, June 21).

"I think it's important to do what we can, so we can be able to mine our own uranium rather than to have to depend on other nations for it," Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said in an interview.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said the congressman would use the appropriations process to stop the land withdrawal. Flake is a member of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which is voting on the Interior spending bill that includes the Grand Canyon rider. The spokeswoman did not elaborate on Flake's role.


Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) -- arguably the lead supporter of a 20-year, 1 million acre withdrawal -- said Republicans are trying to hide their involvement in supporting mining around the Grand Canyon. He said he will back an amendment on the House floor to strip the pro-mining language from the appropriations bill, a way to force lawmakers to get on the record about the issue.

"I think it's disruptive. It is widely unpopular in Arizona and across the nation. And I think they are making a huge political mistake," said Grijalva, who is backing legislation (H.R. 855) to make the withdrawal permanent.

The appropriations rider blocking the Grand Canyon withdrawal has better chances in the House than in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where measures to tie the administration's hands on energy and environmental issued have failed before.

When asked if he would introduce legislation in the Upper Chamber to block the withdrawal, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, "Not right away. But we disagree with the decision."

Franks said, "Whatever will work."

Last year, Franks introduced legislation (H.R. 5665) to block the administration from withdrawing the lands from new mining claims and could do so again.

"We're working on that now," he said. "I would rather not say too much about it yet."

In May, Franks joined Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who also represents the area in question, in writing a letter to House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) to request a hearing on the withdrawal. One has yet to be announced and a spokeswoman for Gosar would not reveal the congressman's plans to stop the administration, if any.

"While [Secretary Salazar] clearly signaled his preference, regardless of the science and the facts surrounding the issue ... a final decision on whether the [long-term] withdrawal will be implemented has not been made," said a statement from Gosar's office for this story.

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