Arizona Congressmen Fight Uranium Mining Ban

Published November 24, 2011

Members of Congress from Arizona are squaring off with the Obama administration over uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said he would like to impose a 20-year moratorium on new mining claims in 1.1 million acres of public forest land surrounding the Grand Canyon. The Arizona congressmen have responded by introducing the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011. The bill would prevent the U.S. Department of the Interior from banning mining in a vast area of Arizona. 

Ban’s Economic Harm Cited

The authors of the bill—Sen. John McCain and Reps. Paul Gosar, Jeff Flake, David Schweikert, Trent Franks, and Ben Quayle, all Republicans from Arizona—point out mining the state’s mineral wealth at a time when prices are high could provide much-needed jobs and an economic stimulus during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

In a press release accompanying the introduction of the bill, the Arizona legislators noted how much economic benefit mining contributes to their state. 

Rep. Gosar said in the press release, “If the administration’s proposed withdrawal is enacted, the potential for nearly $30 billion dollars of economic growth opportunities—nearly $700 million annually and over a thousand well paying jobs—will be eliminated.” 

Picking a New Fight

Byron Schlomach, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute, says there has never been much hostility between the federal government and mining companies until recently, but government land ownership creates problems.

“The 1872 Mining Law, which authorizes and governs prospecting and mining for economic minerals, such as gold, platinum, and silver, on federal public lands, has been in place before the state of Arizona was even constituted. The federal government gave up state trust land with the expectation that over time it would release more federal lands under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. However, since the 1970s, the federal government has not been selling the land in the Western United States, including lands it controls in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California. So it’s been impossible to open new mines to take advantage of the vast mineral wealth in these states,” said Schlomach.

Public Land, Private Poverty

Because of restrictive federal policies, “we are unable to exploit the mineral wealth that the rest of the country wants to use,” said Schlomach. “Texas is able to produce oil because the federal government does not own the land and restrict resource recovery there. Here in Arizona, by contrast, the federal government is keeping energy and mineral production under its thumb.

“Putting a moratorium on new mining claims is simply an excuse to put huge swathes of land off-limits for economic development. The people who protest mining in remote areas and the people in the Obama administration who support them view energy production as exploiting nature. Yet we survive by utilizing the earth’s resources, and we can do it without harming the environment,” Schlomach explained.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Texas.