If President Theodore Roosevelt was still alive, he'd be celebrating his 153rd birthday today. And he would also likely be pleased by this birthday present: On Wednesday, the Obama administration proposed a 20-year extension for a ban on new uranium mining across 1 million acres of federal lands bordering the Grand Canyon.
Roosevelt was a famed conservationist, and he's often called the nation's first "environmental president." As the Christian Science Monitor points out, he was also a big fan of the Grand Canyon — and the first U.S. president to ban mining there, providing stopgap protection until Congress created Grand Canyon National Park in 1919. In personal letters, he described the area as "beautiful and terrible and unearthly," presumably a compliment.
But mining still grew in a million-acre buffer zone around the park, until Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a two-year moratorium in 2009 on new mines there. With that ban set to expire this year, he then added a six-month extension in June, dismissing industry claims it will kill jobs. The canyon's natural beauty, Salazar argued, offers more long-term benefits than the uranium beneath it.
"When you think about the millions of jobs that are created across America through our natural wonders, as well as through other aspects of our heritage [and] tourism, that ought to be what carries the day," he said at a press conference in June.
The Bureau of Land Management now aims to extend the ban for 20 years, the most time it can add without an act of Congress. The BLM released an environmental impact statement as part of Wednesday's announcement, kicking off a 30-day comment period before a final rule is issued. If enacted, the rule would exempt some current uranium and other hard-rock mines, while banning new ones until 2031.
In a statement Wednesday, BLM Director Bob Abbey reiterated Salazar's cost-benefit analysis from June: "The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world. Uranium remains an important part of our nation's comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure."
For a look at the "unearthly" beauty that first inspired Roosevelt's protection a century ago, watch this picturesque flyover of the Grand Canyon, filmed in Cineflex V14HD by Aerial Filmworks:
Also on MNN:
- Grand Canyon National Park: A user's guide
- Teddy Roosevelt: The Wilderness Warrior
- 6 eco-friendly presidents
- Video: Grand Canyon uranium mining