Our View: Uranium ban needs another administrative look

October 6, 2018

In deciding that the federal government had the right to keep new uranium mines from a broad area around the Grand Canyon, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t even look at the question of whether new mines would be beneficial or not.

The court rejected even hearing a federal appeals court case, meaning the high court didn’t really rule on anything related to the uranium issue. Its action was nonetheless a big win for environmental groups and also for the rights of federal officials to make rules for public lands.

Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012 withdrew some million acres of land in Northern Arizona from uranium mining for 20 years. The withdrawal created controversy, especially because of the promise for new jobs in rural Arizona. It also became a focus point for those arguing against the administration’s right to create federal land rules on a whim.

Though the withdrawal was constantly justified on a claim it protected Grand Canyon National Park, none of the withdrawn land is in or even close to the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon, though, does get a lot of uranium exposure anyway, with its rich sandstone formations constantly and naturally leaching uranium into the Colorado River. The area is also downstream from the infamous uranium tailings pile in Moab, Utah, a known source for uranium. The Supreme Court decision didn’t get into that either.

In truth, uranium is a common mineral in the U.S. and historically mined often in the West. Its mined value rises and falls with the use of nuclear power and refined uranium is traded globally for power purposes. For various reasons, only about 5 percent of U.S. nuclear power needs are met with domestic uranium and the mineral is on a federal list of critical minerals.

Uranium in northern Arizona will be needed some day. If a presidential administration can create a mining ban, another can take it away, we’d think. Some recent court actions on the Trump Administration’s changes to national monuments, though, suggest the legal hurdles are high.

We hope the minerals industry continue to have the support of state and local officials in pressuring for a reasonable modification of the uranium mining withdrawal. It’s possible to create jobs, satisfy national mineral needs and protect the land and water if interest groups put a win-win above a win-lose.

— Today’s News-Herald

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