DOI Invites Input on Hardrock Mineral Development in Northern Arizona

The Department of the Interior is seeking comment on a draft environmental impact statement that offers four alternatives for managing mineral development near the Grand Canyon.

The Department of the Interior has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and is seeking public comment on a proposal to withdraw lands in the Grand Canyon watershed that would affect uranium and other hardrock mineral development in that area.

The public is invited to provide input on four alternatives in the Draft EIS, including a no-action (no withdrawal) alternative, to help determine whether federal lands should be withdrawn from location and entry under the 1872 Mining Law for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights.

“The current two-year segregation from new mining claims in the Arizona Strip near the Grand Canyon is allowing us to gather the best science available, engage the public, and make an informed decision about whether lands in the watershed should be withdrawn from new mining claims,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “With the input of local communities, tribes, stakeholders, and scientists, the Bureau of Land Management has developed four alternatives on which we encourage people to provide their feedback and views. This process will help make a decision that recognizes the need for wise development of our energy resources, the importance of healthy lands and waters, and the voices of local communities, tribes, states, and stakeholders.”

The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Draft EIS, which became available for public review and comment on Feb. 18, was prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), acting as lead agency in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and other state and local agencies and in consultation with seven American Indian tribes.

Public input on the Draft EIS will be used to inform a final decision made by the Secretary of the Interior on the proposed withdrawal. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, a notice published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Federal Register initiates a 45-day public comment period.

The Draft EIS, which does not identify a preferred alternative, discusses the potential impacts that each of four alternatives would have on the human environment and natural and cultural resources:

  • Alternative A is the No Action Alternative, under which no withdrawal would occur and hardrock mineral exploration and mining would continue throughout the study area in accordance with existing BLM and Forest Service regulations and land use plans.
  • Alternative B is to withdraw about 1 million acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years subject to valid existing rights. The land is in three parcels: two are north of the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM Arizona Strip and Kaibab National Forest lands; and one is south of the Grand Canyon also in the Kaibab National Forest. The authority for the withdrawal comes from Section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. If implemented, this withdrawal would not prevent any other development under laws regulating mineral leasing, geothermal leasing, mineral materials or public lands.
  • Alternative C is to withdraw a reduced area of about 650,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with resources that could be adversely affected by mineral exploration and mining. The resources potentially affected are cultural, hydrologic, recreational, visual, and biologic.
  • Alternative D is to withdraw a further reduced area of about 300,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with the highest concentration of resources that could adversely be affected by mineral exploration and mining.

A decision to withdraw the subject lands from location and entry under the Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights, would prohibit the filing of new mining claims in an area that has previously been open to location. If the land is withdrawn, previously approved mining operations could continue under existing surface use authorizations and new operations on mining claims that pre-date the proposed withdrawal on July 21, 2009, could be developed only after a determination that the mining claims were valid as of that date.

Public meetings are being scheduled to take place from March 7 to 10 in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Fredonia, Ariz., and in Salt Lake City, Utah. Comments must be in writing and either mailed to Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip District, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790, or sent as an email to [email protected].

Information can be found here or by calling 435.688.3200.

“The Grand Canyon is our most iconic national treasure, and it’s critical that the Canyon and important ecological areas around it be protected from uranium mining,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, an international mining reform group. “There are many other special places and Western waterways that need protection from the devastation of uranium mining, but the Grand Canyon is a no-brainer.”

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