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US Senate holds hearing on permanent Grand Canyon uranium mining ban

Pinyon Plain Mine Heinsius
Ryan Heinsius/KNAU
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The Pinyon Plain Mine is located on the Kaibab National Forest near the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and is owned by Energy Fuels Resources.

The U.S. Senate held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would permanently ban new uranium claims on more than a million acres surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.

The Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests, and Mining heard from supporters of the Grand Canyon Protection Act.

Advocates, including Arizona Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema who sponsored the legislation, say the more than 600 active uranium claims near the canyon could eventually turn into mines without a permanent ban.

“Uranium mining around the Grand Canyon is a bad idea. It’s as simple as that. It presents an unacceptable risk to aquifers and springs inside Grand Canyon National Park. And it threatens the Havasupai Tribe, which has lived in the Canyon for more than 800 years. The bill that Senator Sinema and I introduced would ban mining on roughly 1 million acres of federal land surrounding the Park," said Kelly during the hearing.

Environmental groups and tribes say increased uranium mining would threaten springs and groundwater in the Grand Canyon.

The Havasupai Tribe has long opposed mining in the area and says it threatens their sole water source and existence.

In 2012, the Obama administration banned new claims in the area for 20 years. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protection Act last year.

The uranium industry has consistently said new mining methods are safe and won’t contaminate area aquifers.

But tribes and conservation groups, like the Grand Canyon Trust, dispute that assertion.