“The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world,” said BLM Director Bob Abbey in a statement. “Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure."
The "preferred alternative," he noted, would allow for "cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area.”
There remain 11 uranium mining claims that, before the 2009 federal freeze, had already attained the he status of "valid and existing rights" and which could go forward, the BLM reported.
But several environmental groups would fight the validity of those claims in court, said Roger Clark, a spokesman for the Grand Canyon Trust. There is already one uranium mine – the Arizona 1, owned by a Canadian company – with ongoing operations.
Several moves afoot in Congress aim to unwind the presidential action. A measure appended to a House bill that funds the Department of Interior targets such regulations. And legislation unveiled in the House and Senate last month – backed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona – would nullify the move.
The Wednesday decision does not take effect for another 30 days. Even after that, Congress has 90 days in which it could – through a joint resolution that would not need President Obama's signature – reverse the measure. With Democrats controlling the Senate, this is seen as unlikely.
Moreover, such a move would flout history and an American icon, say environmentalists.