Mining Claims on Federal Land in Ariz. Halted Pending Review

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 20, 2009; 5:00 PM

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Monday ordered a "time out" for mining companies staking claims to uranium deposits on federal lands in northern Arizona, saying he wanted to determine how the mining might affect the nearby Grand Canyon.

Salazar's order affects nearly 1 million acres of high-desert land owned by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. About 10,600 different claims have been made in the area, under a 137-year-old law that allows prospective miners to claim mineral deposits they find on federal lands.

The order would not allow any new claims to be made for two years. It does not affect the existing claims -- most of which are inactive, a Bureau of Land Management official said. There is no uranium mining going on in the area now, but at least three potential mining operations are waiting for permits from the state of Arizona.

"We needed to step back and look at the environmental impacts on the land," Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said. At the end of the review, the department could decide to bar all new claims for another 20 years.

Environmental groups hailed the decision. They have said that uranium and toxic chemicals used to mine it could contaminate the Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon.

Two Republicans from the House Natural Resources committee along with the National Mining Association criticized the order, saying that it would make the United States more reliant on imported uranium, hampering attempts to increase the use of nuclear power.

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