Monday, January 09, 2012

A Bad Decision from Interior

GrandCliffsNot good news:

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced his decision to protect the iconic Grand Canyon and its vital watershed from the potential adverse effects of additional uranium and other hardrock mining on over 1 million acres of federal land for the next 20 years.

This is about the Arizona Strip, which straddles the north edge of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. Naturally, no one would support a move that would in any way damage these areas – doing so would bring major heat down on the mining industry – but no one has been able to show that mining there has damaged any aspect, physical or visual, of the neighboring canyon.

Both Arizona’s and Utah’s Congressional delegations argued against withdrawing the land. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who certainly has institutional knowledge, noted that legislation back in the 80s agreed to keep the strip active while withdrawing other lands in the area from consideration.

“The Obama Administration’s ban on uranium mining is a devastating blow to job creation in northern Arizona, particularly in Mohave County,” said Senator John McCain. “This decision is fueled by an emotional public relations campaign pitting the public’s love for the Grand Canyon against a modern form of low-impact mining that occurs many miles from the Canyon walls and in no way impacts the quality of drinking water from the Colorado River. It is deeply unfortunate that certain environmental groups have chosen to break faith with a 30 year-old compromise with environmentalists that successfully balanced conservation with mining and other commercial activities. The Administration has show that it is either careless enough to break this historic agreement or foolish enough to fall for these groups’ alarmist arguments. Either way, the Obama Administration's decision will cost Arizonans more high paying jobs under the false pretense of 'protecting' one of our national treasures, the Grand Canyon.".

The focus on jobs is au courant, but McCain is right on points.

And Utah’s Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) is no happier:

"Today's announcement by the Interior Department shows how much this Administration just doesn't get it,” said Senator Orrin Hatch. “Mining this land poses no environmental threat and is expected to create thousands of jobs, but the Administration continues to pander to extremist environmentalists who oppose one of the cleanest sources of energy we have. I wish I could say today's announcement comes as a surprise but sadly it's just another sign that the Obama Administration is one of the most anti-American energy presidencies in history."

The harsh tone is a sign, at the least, of how disappointed this decision has left some major figures. In the way government works, though, this decision retains some signs of compromise:

The withdrawal does not prohibit previously approved uranium mining, new projects that could be approved on claims and sites with valid existing rights. The withdrawal would allow other natural resource development in the area, including mineral leasing, geothermal leasing and mineral materials sales, to the extent consistent with the applicable land use plans. Approximately 3,200 mining claims are currently located in the withdrawal area.

NEI makes the case for energy security. Generally speaking, uranium is not secured from dicey places, but that’s not the point:

This decision actually makes more challenging the difficult struggle to reduce America’s dependence on imported sources of energy. The land covered by this prohibition contains as much as 375 million pounds of uranium, seven times current U.S. annual demand. Our nation’s ability to realistically pursue energy independence hinges in part on our ability and willingness to produce uranium supplies domestically. Thirty years ago, reactors here used U.S.-mined uranium for all of our electricity production, but the level today is less than 10 percent.

In this instance, I have no brief on “radical environmentalists” – decisions like this one take a lot of factors into account. But almost all the facts pointed to a responsible handling of the Arizona strip, the desire of people around it to keep it open to mining and grazing and a glaring lack of any evidence of environmental damage.

This is a notably terrible decision.

The Grand Cliffs along the Arizona Strip.


David Bradish said...

Folks may also be interested in NEI's testimony in November on the matter. There are some good comments on the environmental impact statements.

donb said...

I wonder if these "environmental" groups would accept the uranium mining ban in exchange for the development and deployment of breeder reactors. What could be better? No need to mine uranium for centuries, and spent nuclear fuel could be used rather than put into a hole in the ground.
I'm not holding my breath.

Brian Mays said...

donb - If you want to strike a deal, don't make the mistake of being too vague. Your deal should be that the ban on uranium mining goes into effect when, and not until, breeder reactor technology is being successfully deployed.

Don't make the mistake of promising something for nothing more than a possibility.

Given the agenda of the "environmental" movement, however, no such deal is possible anyhow. Since they're winning on both fronts, why should they concede anything?

Anonymous said...

Can anyone name a fast breeder reactor that hasn't experienced a major sodium coolant leak and/or fire?

gmax137 said...


Anonymous said...

Fermi Unit 1 had a flow blockage and some fuel melting but as far as I know, no "major sodium leaks / fires."