As Republican members boycotted the vote in protest, the Democrats of the House Natural Resources Committee Wednesday adopted an emergency resolution that requires the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to withdraw perhaps as much 1,068,908 acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon National Park from any new uranium mining for up to the next three years.
After Republicans left the meeting room, the Natural Resources Committee voted 20 to 2 to adopt the resolution.
No copy of the resolution was made available to Mineweb by committee staff as of deadline early Thursday. The resolution was also not posted on the committee website or on the Thomas Library of Congress website. However, H.R. 5583, legislation which was submitted to Congress by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, on March 11, specified that 1,068,908 acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon National Park will be withdrawn from all forms of location, entry and patent under mining laws.
Grijalva, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Natural Parks, Forest and Public Lands, announced in a news release that he had introduced on June 19 the emergency resolution adopted by the House committee Wednesday. On June 19, he declared, I feel compelled to submit this request for emergency action due to the grave and immediate threat to the Grand Canyon National Park, the crowned jewel of our national park system.
We cannot wait while uranium claims continued to be filed and the Bush Administration continues to use the exclusionary clause to allow uranium mining exploration and eventual mining operations within public lands in close proximity to the Grand Canyon National Park.
Under this emergency clause, when the Secretary of the Interior determines that an emergency exists or when either of the two congressional committees specified in section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLMPA) notifies the Secretary that an emergency exists, the Secretary must immediately make a withdrawal which shall be limited in scope and duration to the emergency.
The resolution authorizes and directs House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia, to notify the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture on the committee's behalf that the committee finds that an emerging situation exists regarding uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park. It directs the Secretary of the Interior, subject to valid existing rights, immediately withdraw the 1,068,908 acres of federal land depicted on the map entitled the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2008 for a period not to exceed three years.
Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Don Young, R-Alaska, and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands, Rob Bishop, R-Utah, released a statement Wednesday declaring that the Rahall resolution withdrawing these lands is clearly unconstitutional.
Why are Democrats going to such extreme measures to keep American utility companies from having a U.S. source of uranium? they asked.
Actions such as this will ensure that we will be forced to continue looking for foreign sources of uranium in countries that have no environmental standards. Regular order has not been followed in this resolution. They could have brought up an already introduced bill which would have allowed for fair and open debate.
This resolution short circuits the Constitution, escapes review by both bodies of Congress and the American people. This resolution is political grandstanding at its best on an unconstitutional resolution which will have no force of law, according to Young and Bishop.
As precedent, Grijalva cited a 1981 emergency withdrawal designation by the Secretary of the Interior which withdrew 1.5 million acres of national forest lands in the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat and Great Bear Wilderness areas in Montana from mineral leasing. The emergency declaration was again used in 1983 when the Secretary was directed to withdraw certain tracts of land from Fort Union from coal leasing.
Jane Danowitz, Director, Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining said Wednesday, Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures and today's commendable vote to protect the Grand Canyon is no exception. With soaring numbers of new mining claims approaching the park's borders and the Senate's inaction on 1972 mining law reform, not even the Grand Canyon, arguably our nation's most recognized natural treasure is safe from the arcane 1872 law.
The Pew Campaign asserted that new mining claims increased 40% within five miles of national parks during the second half of last year. As of January 2008, there were more than 1,100 claims near the boundary of the Grand Canyon National Park.
However, an Interior Department spokesman told the Associated Press that the resolution will have no impact on the more than 10,000 mining claims already secured on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service Property near the Grand Canyon National Park. The spokesman said the agency will consider its next steps, given that a 1983 Justice Department opinion found similar resolutions to be unconstitutional.
Separate legislation also introduced by Grijalva is pending before the Natural Resources Committee. It would permanently ban mining from the acreage contained in Wednesday's emergency resolution.
In a letter sent to the committee Wednesday, the Nuclear Energy Institute accused the lawmakers of mischaracterizing uranium mining practices and hampering clean energy development.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit has previously been filed by environmental NGOs against the District Range for the Tusayan Ranger District on the Kaibab National Forest and the U.S. Forest Service challenging the agency's decision to authorize the exploratory drilling program of UK-based Vane Minerals near the Grand Canyon National Park.
Mining opponents are also worried about discussions between Kaibab National Forest officials and Denison Mines regarding reopening the Canyon mine and future operations.