This bill — the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act — would make a current 20-year ban on mining and geothermal leasing on approximately one million acres of federal land in Arizona permanent. Consequently, it would ban new mining or mineral production on those lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park.
What is House Bill H.R. 1373?
Cost of House Bill H.R. 1373
In-Depth: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced this bill on Grand Canyon National Park’s Centennial anniversary to protect the Grand Canyon area from new mining claims. To this end, this bill would make a current 20-year moratorium on new mining claims across one million acres of public lands permanent. In a press conference at the Grand Canyon held in conjunction with Havasupai, Hualapai, Hopi and Navajo tribal leaders, he said, “Protecting the canyon is just, it’s overdue and it’s life-affirming. The public wants us to do it, the economies of the region need it and the Grand Canyon’s future depends on it.”
In a separate statement, Rep. Grijalva cited the need to ensure the Grand Canyon will be protected even in the face of the push for critical minerals, including uranium:
“We can’t keep going through these cycles of fighting over whether to protect the most sensitive places on Earth. We need to make a decision, here and now, that the Grand Canyon will forever be safe from the impacts of uranium mining. That’s why I introduced this bill, and that’s why I’m moving it forward as chair of the Natural Resources Committee. It’s time to put an end to the questions around the Grand Canyon’s future.”
After this bill passed the House Committee on Natural Resources by a 21-14 vote, Rep. Grijalva challenged anyone objecting to it to offer compelling evidence that uranium mining doesn’t pose a risk to the Grand Canyon:
“The Grand Canyon is one of the most amazing places on Earth and it needs to be protected and it still isn’t protected. Anybody who doesn’t support this legislation should have a better idea on how to protect it and should be able to argue that uranium mining isn’t a risk to the Grand Canyon.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) adds:
“This region is still coping with the toxic legacy of uranium mining, and it has had a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of communities and families over the decades. For years I have fought against efforts to resume uranium mining near the Grand Canyon watershed, and I am proud to continue that work today by co-sponsoring the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act. For one hundred years, and for decades before, millions of people have visited the Grand Canyon for its spiritual significance and natural beauty. We have an obligation to protect this natural wonder for centuries to come.”
Cosponsor Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) notes that uranium mining has affected communities across the southwest:
“After the extractive industries mine away our natural resources, they should clean up their mess. But uranium mining has had a toxic impact across the southwest, leaving behind thousands of abandoned mine sites on the Navajo Nation leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleanup. Just yesterday I met with several Navajo members who lost family members to the toxic effects of uranium mining and who themselves are suffering with resulting health problems. We cannot allow people to suffer from these preventable impacts simply to do the bidding of the mining industry, and Chairman Grijalva’s bill will protect the Grand Canyon ecosystem and the people who call it home.”
A coalition of Native American and environmental advocacy organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians, Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club, wrote a joint letter of support for this bill on February 25. They wrote:
“[O]ur groups are proud to stand with tribal members and leaders who have long-opposed the threats of uranium mining—including from the Havasupai, Hualapai, and Hopi Tribes, and Navajo Nation—and a broad coalition of business owners, local government leaders, wildlife groups, and others who oppose uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region. Ultimately, the threats to water, sacred places, and the history of deadly pollution that continues to afflict many tribal communities warrants legislation that will make the ban permanent.. [O]ur nation has the opportunity to take the long view and permanently protect the Grand Canyon and those who depend upon it rather than allow it to be jeopardized for the sake of mines that ultimately would benefit no more than the short term profits of a few.”
In their letter, the coalition cites research by the Grand Canyon Trust explaining why risks outweigh the rewards of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area, even after taking economic considerations and national security into account. Among its findings, the Grand Canyon Trust report found that:
- The U.S. has access to enough already mined uranium to meet its defense needs, supply its electrical grid, and insulate itself from supply chain disruptions.
- The Grand Canyon holds less than 1% of known unmined uranium reserves in the U.S.
- Breccia pipe uranium mines are short-lived and offer only temporary employment.
- Mining contamination would risk the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars that the Grand Canyon brings to gateway communities.
Richard Powskey, a Hualapai tribal council member, says that protecting the Grand Canyon's regional watershed is a decades-long effort that affected communities aren’t ready to give up. Powskey says, “This water cannot continue to be threatened by these mining operations. The damage from these mines lasts for a while and brings lasting health concerns and other adverse effects.”
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) is one of the harshest critics of the Grand Canyon mining moratorium. He argues that uranium mining is a national security issue that’s vital to U.S. energy independence, and claims that mining operations could provide anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 jobs, and that the economic benefit from uranium mining could be valued at $29 billion. In a statement condemning this bill, he characterized it as a “land grab and energy security sabotage”:
“Once again, Rep. Grijalva is pursuing his misguided quest to permanently lockup more than a million acres in Northern Arizona, harm education, kill jobs, infringe on private property rights and undermine American energy security. Rep. Grijalva's attempt to mislead the American public on the issue of uranium mining by claiming Republicans and industry want to destroy the Grand Canyon is laughable at best. Uranium was recently placed on the critical minerals list. The area far outside the Grand Canyon that Grijalva is trying to permanently ban constitutes the bulk of a 326,000,000 acre uranium reserve, the subsurface of which contains significant portions of what is by far the largest tract of uranium deposits in the entire nation, in addition to the highest grade of uranium deposit in the nation by a factor of six. There is no reason America should be importing 97% of our uranium necessary for domestic reactors from countries with Russian influence when we have an ample supply here at home that will create good-paying jobs and be mined under higher standards that protect our environment. Nuclear energy is the most reliable form of clean energy and produces nearly 20 percent of our electricity. At a time when we should be celebrating the Centennial of the Grand Canyon, Rep. Grijlava’s bogus effort distracts from what should be a joyous bipartisan celebration."
During this bill’s committee hearing, Rep. Gosar expounded upon his concerns, saying:
“[The bill] will reduce important revenues for education, roads, hospitals and infrastructure.... [It] will kill jobs, harm local communities, threaten national security and undermine American energy security. The withdrawal area targeted by this bill contains extremely valuable deposits of rare earths, critical minerals, copper and a 326 million-acre uranium reserve that contains the largest tract and highest-grade uranium in the nation by a factor of six.”
House Natural Resources Committee Republicans expressed their opposition to this bill in their dissenting views to the committee report. They wrote:
“H.R. 1373 would permanently lock up approximately 1 million acres of public lands in Northern Arizona. This mistitled and misguided land grab solely impacts lands far outside the Grand Canyon, and concerns the largest tract of uranium deposits in the country. The uranium that is contained in the area is high grade and necessary to help expand the domestic supply of Uranium. In 2017, 93 percent of U.S. demand for uranium was met by foreign imports, despite a large domestic supply. Making this land permanently out of bounds for mineral development is a clear threat to American energy security. This is a deeply partisan proposal, and one that exclusively impacts lands outside the lead sponsor's district… At the June 5, 2019, hearing, the Natural Resources Committee heard testimony from Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, whose county contains significant portions of the land impacted by this legislation. Supervisor Johnson testified that this bill would have a negative economic impact on the rural communities in this part of Arizona where ‘uranium mining would create jobs during a time with the economy is in need of a boost.’... [This bill] could also jeopardize water quality in the area. A small amount of natural uranium contamination of the Colorado River is occurring as a result of erosion, not due to mining. Uranium mining and the requisite reclamation of land would benefit the environment and improve water quality.”
Finally, House Natural Resources Committee Republicans objected to the rejection of their amendments seeking to address flaws in this bill:
“During markup of H.R. 3195, several amendments offered by Republicans seeking to address flaws in the bill were rejected on largely party line votes. Among these was an amendment to ensure national security concerns were considered, an amendment to exempt lands in Congressman Gosar's district from the bill, and a delay until the U.S. begins obtaining 30% of its uranium from nonhostile sources. Additional proposed changes at the markup included an amendment to ensure that there are no other critical minerals that would be locked away in this area to the legislation, and another amendment that would have required assurance that this legislation would not adversely affect jobs available to Native Americans, other minorities, and women. All of these amendments were rejected by Committee Democrats, and the legislation advanced without a single Republican vote. Sadly, like many of the bills advanced by the Majority so far this Congress, consideration of this bill wasted the times of Members and prevented the consideration of bipartisan legislation that would be easily enacted into law if allowed to advance.”
“Arizona's farmers and ranchers know better than most the importance of wise stewardship of our land. The unprecedented land grab Rep. Grijalva proposes is the opposite of wise stewardship. It would prevent the wise use of some of Arizona's most precious and valuable resources without offering any meaningful protection, since the land in question is already protected by a number of federal Acts and other land use regulations. In a state where only 18.1 percent of our land is under private control, additional restrictions on the use of our resources is the last thing we need."
The Trump administration has made developing a domestic critical minerals strategy one of its priorities. In a June 2017 executive order, “A Federal Strategy to Ensure a Reliable Supply of Critical Minerals,” it directed the U.S. Dept. of the Interior (DOI) to find domestic critical minerals supplies, ensure access to information needed to study and promote their use, and expedite permitting for minerals projects. The strategy calls for the BLM, U.S. Forest Services, United States Geological Survey (USGS) and others to “evaluate withdrawn or restricted areas for the presence of minerals” and notes that national parks effectively “prevent or limit mining of mineral-rich lands.” However, it’s not entirely clear whether the strategy would impact national parks or lands adjacent to them.
In December 2017, the administration followed up with Executive Order 13817, A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals. This called on agencies across the federal government to develop strategies to reduce the United States’ susceptibility to critical mineral supply disruptions.
Consistent with its previous policies, the Trump administration threatened to veto this bill in an October 28, 2019 statement of administration policy:
"The Administration opposes [this bill's] large, permanent withdrawal, which would prohibit environmentally responsible development, as determined through site-specific analysis, of uranium and other mineral resources. The United States has an extraordinary abundance of mineral resources, both onshore and offshore, but this legislation would restrict our ability to access critical minerals like uranium in an area known to have them in large supply. Moreover, the size of the withdrawal included in [this bill] is inconsistent with the Administration’s goal of striking the appropriate balance for use of public lands described... Development of our Nation’s mineral resources is essential to ensuring the Nation’s geopolitical security, and this bill would not help us achieve that goal."
This legislation passed the House Natural Resources Committee by a 21-14 vote with the support of 122 Democratic cosponsors.
Numerous environmental advocacy organizations support this legislation. They include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, Chispa Arizona, the League of Conservation Voters, and others. Additionally, a number of Native American groups, including the National Congress of American Indians and three tribes — the Havasupai Tribe, Navajo Nation, and Hopi Tribe — support this legislation.
In past years, efforts to make the mining ban permanent didn’t receive hearings in Republican-controlled Houses. This year, Rep. Grijalva is confident he’ll be able to get it to the floor of a Democratic House (however, even if passed, it’s unclear whether this bill could pass the Republican-held Senate).
Of Note: After an extensive public process, the Dept. of the Interior announced a 20-year mining ban on about one million acres of land adjacent to, and hydrologically and ecologically connected to, the Grand Canyon in 2012. The temporary withdrawal was meant to alleviate critical uncertainties about the biological and hydrological pathways by which uranium mining could hurt the Grand Canyon’s land, water, and ecosystems.
Seven years later, research into how uranium mining could affect the Grand Canyon area is chronically underfunded. It is behind schedule to the point that the U.S. Geological Survey won’t be able to answer the questions it was meant to answer by the time of the mining ban’s expiration in 2032.
Native American tribes in the Grand Canyon region have historically suffered from the consequences of uranium mining on their lands. Citing the 500-plus abandoned uranium mining sites where high toxin levels remain, Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer says, “The Navajo Nation has suffered profound impacts from uranium mining.”
- Coalition Letter (In Favor)
- League of Conservation Voters (LCV) (In Favor)
- Sierra Club (In Favor)
- Center for Biological Diversity (In Favor)
- Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) Press Release (Opposed)
- Trump Administration Statement of Administration Policy (Opposed)
- House Natural Resources Committee Press Release
- House Natural Resources Committee Report
- House Natural Resources Committee Timeline
- AZ Central
- AZ Central
- National Parks Traveler
- Indian Country Today
- Grand Canyon Trust
- Grand Canyon Trust Report (Context)
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Eloi_Omella)
Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act
To protect, for current and future generations, the watershed, ecosystem, and cultural heritage of the Grand Canyon region in the State of Arizona, and for other purposes.
- Not enactedThe President has not signed this bill
- The senate has not voted
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
- senate Committees
- The house Passed October 30th, 2019Roll Call Vote 236 Yea / 185 Nay
National Parks, Forests, and Public LandsCommittee on Natural ResourcesIntroducedFebruary 26th, 2019
- house Committees