Environment

Biden shields tribal lands near Grand Canyon from new uranium mining projects

Washington, Aug 8 (EFE).- US President Joe Biden on Tuesday designated tribal lands near the Grand Canyon as a national monument, a measure that protects them from new uranium mining projects.

The monument known as Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument covers an area of roughly 1 million acres (around 405,000 hectares) of public lands in northern Arizona.

“Baaj Nwaavjo” (where indigenous peoples roam) is the Havasupai name for that canyon- and plateau-filled region of the US Southwest; the Hopi indigenous group calls those same lands “I’tah Kukveni” (our ancestral footprints).

The massive canyon that lies at the heart of that region is known as the Grand Canyon.

“Today I’m proud to use my authority under the Antiquities Act to protect almost 1 million acres of land around Grand Canyon National Park as a new national monument,” Biden told tribal leaders, activists and members of Congress in a speech at the park.

The president recalled his first visit to the Grand Canyon, saying his initial thought when viewing the spectacular landscape was “this is God’s cathedral.”

The designation will serve to honor the tribal nations who have inhabited those lands for centuries and show respect for their way of life, ceremonies and buried ancestors, according to Biden, who added that it also will benefit the local tourism industry.

“Preserving these lands is good not only for Arizona, but for the planet. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for the soul of the nation, and I believe with my core, to my core, it’s the right thing to do,” the president said.

DECADES OF STRUGGLE

The monument designation is the fruit of a long struggle by Native American tribes and environmental activists, who for decades have lobbied the federal government to protect the lands to the north and south of the Grand Canyon from new mining activity.

Those efforts led to uranium mining being prohibited in that region in 2012; that ban had been set to expire in 2032, but the new monument makes it permanent.

Existing mining claims that date back prior to the 2012 ban, however, will be unaffected by the Biden administration’s move.

The lands designated Tuesday as a national monument are home to around 1.3 percent of the United States’ known uranium reserves, and the White House says more important uranium resources are located elsewhere in the country.

Previous efforts to permanently protect those lands were stymied by Republican lawmakers and the mining industry for years.

Opponents argued that the region’s uranium reserves could provide a major economic boost to Arizona and ensure access to a mineral used for medical purposes and to generate nuclear power

ELECTORAL BACKDROP

The monument designation makes sense politically for Biden ahead of his re-election bid in 2024 and may particularly benefit him in Arizona, a swing state he won by a narrow margin over then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

A recent survey by the non-profit Grand Canyon Trust organization found that 89 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents and 65 percent of Republicans support measures to protect lands near one of the US’s most beloved geographical wonders. EFE

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