Former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Friday he opposed uranium mining around the Grand Canyon.
“The Grand Canyon is first among the landmarks of our nation — holy to the Tribes who preserve it and call it home, and sacred to all Americans,” said the statement, released Friday afternoon to The Arizona Republic. “This national treasure attracts millions of visitors each year, supporting thousands of jobs for Arizonans and contributing more than $1 billion to the state economy.”
Biden said by allowing mining companies to extract uranium in the Canyon and surrounding lands, the Trump administration threatened to deface the land, poison the lands and water that local communities rely on, and “drive a drill into the heart of one of Arizona’s cultural and economic cornerstones.”
About 1 million acres of public lands surrounding the Canyon were closed to new mining claims in 2012 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, under former President Barack Obama. The intent of the 20-year moratorium was to examine the ecological effects uranium mining could have on the region.
Industry officials and some local leaders have been calling for the ban to be lifted so new mines can be opened, citing economic development and job opportunities.
President Donald Trump has promoted uranium mining in general and has enacted policies to facilitate it, often citing national security. In 2018, the White House declared uranium a critical mineral, and a year later, Trump established a nuclear fuel working group to examine domestic uranium production.
That group issued recommendations in April to enhance domestic mining and production, including the establishment of a fund to establish a uranium reserve. And in June, the Trump administration rolled back parts of the National Environmental Policy Act, which environmentalists and tribes fear could ease the way to open up the region to new mining claims.
The White House did not immediately respond to requests for a statement on Friday.
Tribes and environmental groups have long opposed any further uranium mining, citing ecological damage to the land and water supplies. In May, the Havasupai Tribe and two environmental groups lost a lawsuit to prevent the existing mine in the area from opening. The Navajo Nation has been heavily impacted by the environmental and health effects of more than 500 abandoned uranium mines.
Navajo National President Jonathan Nez said he applauded Biden’s statement.
“The Navajo people and other tribes have always considered the Grand Canyon and areas adjacent a sacred place,” he said. “The threat to our tribe’s environment and water is real and we are still dealing with the health effects of uranium.”
Nez said cancer rates in the nation have skyrocketed, and that some lands with open pit mines left behind by mining companies will be unusable for thousands of years.
Biden said in his statement that instead of uranium, he would create a clean energy economy, saying his plan would create “millions of well-paying union jobs and revitalize our communities without jeopardizing the places we hold dear.
By Debra Utacia Krol