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Proposal Is Latest Move to Protect Public Lands From Destructive Mining

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 — The U.S. Interior Department's draft plan for addressing uranium and other mining near the Grand Canyon includes a proposal to ban new mine claims on 1 million acres. Mining reform advocates applauded the proposal, noting it is the third move forward by the Obama Administration this week to protect public lands from destructive hardrock mining.

The Grand Canyon is our most iconic national treasure, and it's critical that the Canyon and important ecological areas around it be protected from uranium mining, said Lauren Pagel, policy director for EARTHWORKS, an international mining reform group. There are many other special places and Western waterways that need protection from the devastation of uranium mining, but the Grand Canyon is a no-brainer.

The draft environmental study of mining near the Canyon comes just three days after the Obama administration's budget proposal, which contained two more important mining reforms.

The budget would remove hardrock mining from the authority of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law and move jurisdiction to the Mineral Leasing Act. That act allows the federal government to charge a royalty on oil and gas production on public lands, and gives land managers more discretion over where extraction can occur and not occur via lease sales. Placing mining under the Mineral Leasing Act would give land managers like those who administer the forests around the Grand Canyon the same authority over mines.

The administration also proposed a reclamation fee on all mining, which would raise $200 million a year towards cleanup of of abandoned mines.

The choice is between an antiquated mining law that allows mining to occur on public land with no return to the taxpayers, and a leasing system that compensates taxpayers and gives the Interior Department more say over where mining can occur, said Pagel. The second option is clearly in Americans — best interest, and it's time our public lands were managed for public benefit, instead of industry profits.

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