Concern rises about possible uranium mining near Grand Canyon

Federal officials are expected to rule in the next month on a petition that could eventually lead to uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, which conservation advocates warn could irreparably pollute the region’s limited groundwater supply.

While the petition is under consideration, the Commerce and Interior departments have made a series of decisions including reclassifying uranium as a critical mineral and developing a plan calling for increased domestic mining.

The departments’ decisions have raised the concern of those who oppose mining in the region, who worry the administration may use the moves to justify modifying or rescinding the Department of Interior’s 2012 decision that largely blocked mining on more than 1 million acres near the national park for 20 years. That 2012 decision, which was made to give the US Geological Survey time to study the unique impacts of uranium mining there, was upheld by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.

“Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region is an unnecessary threat to our tourism-based economies and the people who depend on the Grand Canyon,” Amber Reimondo with the Grand Canyon Trust recently told a House subcommittee.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s current position on the ban is that he sees “no reason” to lift it, department spokeswoman Molly Block said Wednesday.

Neither the Commerce Department nor the White House responded to requests for comment on this topic from CNN.

The petition by Energy Fuels Resources, which holds hundreds of mining claims in the area around the Grand Canyon and operates the nation’s only conventional uranium processing mill, says there is a “serious crisis” because the vast majority of the uranium used in the US is imported. It asks the government to buy its uranium exclusively from domestic producers and to set a quota guaranteeing US companies 25% of the market.

Uranium prices have dropped in recent years, and without the changes, the company said in the petition,”it will soon be uneconomic to continue operations.”

Energy Fuels announced in April that the Commerce Department had provided recommendations to the White House but that those recommendations were confidential.

“We believe that President Trump will recognize the danger of imported uranium and act before it is too late,” the company said in a statement.