U.S. Forest Service Reconsidering 20-Year Ban On Uranium Mining near Grand Canyon

Pam Wright
Published: November 9, 2017

The United States Forest Service has ordered a review of energy regulations, including a 20-year ban on uranium mining on public land outside Grand Canyon National Park, a move that has raised the ire of local Hopi tribal leaders and other conservationists.

The agency announced its proposed review in a report released on Nov. 1 as a response to a March executive order by President Donald Trump that requires agencies like the U.S. Forest Service to eliminate restrictions on energy production.

Herman Honanie, the chairman of the Hopi tribe, told the Associated Press he's profoundly disappointed with Trump's order and the subsequent proposal by the Forest Service to review the ban put in place in 2012 by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazaar, calling the moves "indefensible."

"Hopisinon and many other Native American people suffer an ongoing legacy of death by cancer, chronic health problems and radioactive contamination, including water contamination on tribal lands," Honanie said on Tuesday.

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The ban was enacted to afford scientists the time needed to study the effects of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon watershed, which provides water to some 25 million people, according to the Grand Canyon News.

“Calling this a step back would be an understatement,” Rep. Tom O’Halleran, whose district includes much of the Grand Canyon, said in a statement. “The ban on uranium mining in the watershed of the Grand Canyon has improved water and land quality within tribal communities and throughout Arizona. The administration should be focused on cleaning up the hundreds of uranium mines still contaminating northern Arizona communities.”

Honanie joins other conservationists angered by the proposed review. They argue uranium mining pollutes soils, washes, aquifers and drinking water, and destroys the landscape, according to the AP.

"The holidays have come early and often for the oil, gas and mining industry since Donald Trump took office," said Wilderness Society Forest Planning and Policy Director Vera Smith in a statement. "The Forest Service’s recommendations will turn iconic places like the Grand Canyon into industrial zones and put drinking water at risk for 66 million people across the country."

The decision to review the ban is the latest in a long line of regulatory reviews in Trump's campaign to unravel President Barack Obama's environmental legacy meant to curb climate change, the AP noted.

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