Gosar pushes to reverse Biden’s Grand Canyon nat'l monument to allow for uranium mining

Saying that stopping companies from
mining uranium from lands near the Grand Canyon is a threat to national
security, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar won preliminary approval of an amendment
that would reverse President Joe Biden’s creation earlier this year of a
national monument in Northern Arizona.

“Arizona already boasts more national
monuments than any other state,” Gosar said. “We do not want any more
monument designations.”

President Joe Biden visited Arizona in August to announce the newly designated Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument,
effectively barring mining and other economic activity on roughly a
million acres of land in Northern Arizona near Grand Canyon National
Park.

A voice vote on Nov. 2 adopted the amendment during a U.S. House of Representatives session focused on the fiscal year 2024 spending legislation for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

Gosar’s amendment to House Bill 4821
would bar the Department of the Interior from spending money to
implement, administer, or enforce the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah
Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.

At risk, the Arizona Republican said,
is economic security for Arizonans and national security if uranium
mining is banned in a large swath of Northern Arizona.

“The area in question is home to the
highest grade and largest quantity of uranium deposits in the United
States,” Gosar said, and having this area under the no mining
protections not only affects Arizona but also harms the national
security of the entire country.

“It’s nothing short of a full-scale
attack on the livelihoods of many of my constituents,” he added. “It
sets back our nation’s national security and even strengthens Russia.”

Gosar said the claim that the monument’s designation is an effort to protect the Grand Canyon is “completely disingenuous.”

“No one wants a mine within the Grand
Canyon,” he said, noting that several existing laws already protect the
Grand Canyon and that the land making up the designated area for the
monument is miles away from the boundaries of the buffer area of the
Grand Canyon National Park.

Gosar has long been a proponent of uranium mining in Arizona, and even called on the U.S. government to subsidize mining companies to jump-start extraction projects in the Grand Canyon State and across the country.

Gosar’s amendment passed through the
U.S. House, but its fate is unclear in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats
hold a majority. And if it does survive the legislative process, it’s
likely to earn a veto from Biden.

Gosar’s amendment request comes nearly two months after the Arizona Senate announced its plans to sue Biden to block the national monument.

The Biden administration said the monument designation won’t affect any mining rights already in place.

“The national monument designation
recognizes and respects valid existing rights,” Secretary of Interior
Deb Haaland said during the announcement in August.

The proclamation outlines that
maintenance and upgrades to water infrastructure will continue, and
utility lines, pipelines and roads will be maintained.

“Existing mining claims — predating a
20-year mineral withdrawal initiated in 2012 — will remain in place,”
Haaland said, and the two approved mining operations within the
monument’s boundaries could operate.

“The national monument only includes
federal lands and does not include state and private lands within the
boundary or affect the property rights of the state or private
landowners,” she added.

The monument will comprise three distinct areas: south, northeast, and northwest of Grand Canyon National Park.

U.S. House Rep. Chellie Pingree
(D-Maine) opposed the amendment, saying that it would prohibit using
federal funds to implement, administer or enforce the presidential
proclamation.

“The Antiquities Act provides a
president with the authority to designate national monuments in order to
protect objects of historic or scientific interests,” Pingree said,
noting that the monument area is significant to many tribal nations.

“This amendment inappropriately
restricts the president’s ability to declare national monuments in
specific parts of the country,” she added, noting that both Republican
and Democratic presidents have used this authority to increase the
protection of federal lands.

“The Antiquities Act represents an
important achievement in the progress of conservation and preservation
efforts in the United States,” Pingree said. “Congress should not stand
in the way of these achievements.”

In terms of the area being ancestral
land for Indigenous people, Gosar dismissed the idea, saying that
“anything can be that way..

He said public lands were established
by “our founders” to be used and improved for multiple purposes,
including mining and energy development.

“Not conservation,” Gosar added.

The Grand Canyon is the ancestral
homeland of multiple tribal nations across the Southwest, and tribes
still rely on the canyon for natural and cultural resources that are
significant and sacred to their communities.

In April, tribal leaders, alongside
state and federal officials, launched an effort to sustain the natural
resources of the Grand Canyon by calling on Biden to designate land
surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park as a national monument by
using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Their efforts succeeded when Biden
designed the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the
Grand Canyon National Monument in August.

The name is a mixture of the
traditional Havasupai and Hopi languages. Baaj Nwaavjo means “where
tribes roam” for the Havasupai Tribe, and I’tah Kukveni means “our
footprints” for the Hopi Tribe.

The new monument spans 917,618 acres
of public lands managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land
Management and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.