President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that it has designated nearly 1 million acres in Arizona outside the Grand Canyon as a monument, a move that could further America’s reliance on Russia for sourcing uranium.
The monument designation will permanently prohibit new mining claims in the covered 917,618 acres, parts of which are known for having rich deposits of uranium, an essential material for generating nuclear energy, according to E&E News. The Biden administration is justifying the designation by pointing to the land’s cultural significance to local Native American tribes in accordance with its wider push for “environmental justice,” according to the White House.
President Joe Biden formally announced the monument designation during a Tuesday speech at Arizona’s Historic Red Butte Airfield, according to the White House. “I pledge to keep using all available authority to protect sacred tribal lands,” Biden said during his remarks, adding that “there’s more work ahead to combat the existential threat of climate change.”
The Senate voted overwhelmingly in July to approve an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which would direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to prioritize actions to boost domestic production of two types of uranium to fuel U.S. nuclear reactors. Northern Arizona, through which the Grand Canyon runs, is the most active uranium-producing region of the state, which itself is one of the leading uranium-producing states in the U.S., according to the Uranium Producers of America and World Population Review.
Though the amendment did not mention Russia by name in its text, the bill was authored with Russia in mind, as the U.S. pays Russia about $1 billion annually to source uranium, Republican Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso said in remarks from the Senate floor on the day the bill passed. The Biden administration has repeatedly stated that it aims to enhance American energy security while also decarbonizing the domestic power sector. (RELATED: ‘Cannot Power The World With Solar Panels And Wind Turbines Alone’: Bipartisan Lawmakers Advocate For Increased Nuclear Energy)
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Biden “talks about ‘net zero’ carbon emission, but is proposing to cut off an area almost the size of Delaware from providing uranium to fuel our nuclear plants, which are the largest source of carbon-free electricity,” Dan Kish, senior fellow for the Institute for Energy Research, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “He talks about the evils of Russia and then hands them the keys to our energy security, just like his talk about solar panels has handed the keys to China.”
Some experts suggest that the designation may also threaten existing mining claims in the designated monument area if operators cannot sufficiently prove that they can extract minerals from claimed tracts at a profit, according to E&E News. Such a development would contradict the White House’s position that existing mining claims predating a 2012 moratorium will remain in place.
“It’s frankly very unlikely that any existing claims would be valid,” John Leshy, a former Clinton administration official in the Department of the Interior and current emeritus professor at the University of California College of the Law in San Francisco, said in advance of the designation, according to E&E News. “But that’s a fact question, and you’d have to go claim by claim.”
Scott Melbye, president of the Uranium Producers of America, said that it is “disingenuous” for the Biden administration to actively pursue a “green energy economy” while also inhibiting uranium production in the U.S. ahead of the designation’s announcement, according to E&E News.
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