The Department of the Interior will block new mining leases outside Yellowstone National Park for at least two years as regulators consider a longer ban.
The department’s announcement came just days after closing Arctic offshore areas and canceling dozens of oil and gas drilling leases.
“There are good places to mine for gold, but the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park is not one of them,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, according to prepared remarks of the formal announcement obtained by The Associated Press.
Two companies, Luck Minerals and Crevice Mining Group, applied for permission to mine on a 30,000-acre parcel of land just north of Yellowstone National Park that has had a long history of being mined.
But backlash from environmentalists and some locals prompted the Interior Department to impose a two-year ban on mining in the region.
Jewell’s decision doesn’t explicitly block Lucky or Crevice from mining the region, since their deals are on private lands, but the temporary ban will make it much more difficult to expand the mines to federal lands.
The Yellowstone mining ban is just the latest in a string of decisions choking off natural resource extraction on federal lands.
The Interior Department announced Friday it would not include Arctic sea zones in its newest five-year plan for offshore drilling. That same day, Jewell said she would cancel 25 oil and natural gas leases in the White River National Forest.
Environmentalists cheered the announcements; industry groups and Republicans railed against the decision.
“With this action, the Obama Administration is once again capitulating to the demands of extreme environmental groups over Alaskans and their fellow Americans who want good-paying jobs, energy independence and a strong economy,” Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said in a statement. “For nearly eight years this Administration has given lip service to an ‘all of the above energy strategy,’ when their actions say the opposite.”
The Obama administration’s last minute rules could be overturned by President-elect Donald Trump and a Republican Congress.
Trump may decide to scrap Interior’s current five-year plan and start the process anew, and Congress could use the Congressional Review Act to overturn other Obama rules restricting energy and mining operations on federal lands.
Experts have found at least 150 rules Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress can undo using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). That process, however, could take months.
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