October 13, 2008

BLM rejects House Resources Committee Grand Canyon hardrock mining ban


Federal officials are seeking to abolish a rule that allowed the House Natural Resources Committee to try to block uranium mining and exploration around the Grand Canyon.

by Dorothy Kosich

RENO, NV - The Bureau of Land Management has published a proposed rule which rejects the House Natural Resources Emergency House Resolution enacted in June that bans uranium mining and exploration near the Grand Canyon National Park.

The agency argues that the BLM "continues to believe the emergency procedure to be unnecessary. Like a withdrawal, segregation removes the lands from the operation of the public land laws, including the mining laws."

"Contrary to its implication, the procedures for issuing an emergency withdrawal order do not result in the protection of public lands more rapidly than the completion of a more conventional withdrawal process. Conventional withdrawals of public lands, as necessary and appropriate, will continue."

BLM Director Jim Caswell said, "The BLM recognizes that unique circumstances may arise requiring the withdrawal of land from particular activities in order to preserve resources and values that need immediate protection. We remain committed to working closely with states, local governments, and other stakeholders in the timely withdrawal of land under such critical circumstances."

The proposed BLM rule published Friday in the Federal Register would remove regulations that provide for emergency land withdrawals, such as the one utilized by the House Natural Resources Committee ordering the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw as much as 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.

In its published notice, the BLM said, "These regulations are redundant, since public lands can be protected without substantial delay via conventional withdrawal procedures, without resource to the regulations providing for emergency withdrawals. Moreover, constitutional issues may arise whenever a Congressional committee directs the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw lands immediately."

BLM officials estimate there are as many as 10,000 existing mining claims on BLM and the U.S. Forest Service lands near the Grand Canyon for all types of hardrock exploration.

The lawmakers used a seldom-utilized rule in the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act that allows the House and Senate Natural Resources Committee to withdraw lands from mining and other activities in emergencies. A 1983 Justice Department opinion found similar resolutions to be unconstitutional.

The public has until October 25th to comment on the proposed BLM rule change.