Monday, June 30, 2008 | 2:07 a.m.
A House committee has banned the federal government from issuing new mining claims on land abutting Grand Canyon National Park.
The House Natural Resources Committee has, but rarely uses, the authority to pass such a resolution, which Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is required to enforce, the Las Vegas Sun’s Phoebe Sweet reported. The resolution passed 20-2 on Thursday.
The number of uranium mining permits issued on land adjacent to the Grand Canyon since 2003 has risen from about 10 to more than 1,100. Environmental activists and officials from the Southern Nevada Water Authority told the House committee that such an increase in mining operations could adversely affect the Colorado River and other features of the Grand Canyon.
The U.S. Forest Service came under heavy criticism this year when it approved a British company’s request to do exploratory uranium drilling in the Kaibab National Forest, roughly three miles from a popular Grand Canyon National Park overlook.
That approval came after an environmental review process that was less stringent than reviews required for coal, oil and gas exploration projects. A mining law passed in 1872 does not require a full public hearing or formal environmental assessment for ore operations.
Last week’s resolution would not affect the British company’s project or other existing claims. But it does stop new claims — unless, of course, the Bush administration ignores it, as Interior Secretary James Watt did back in 1983. Activists sued to force Watt to comply.
And we certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Kempthorne and White House officials choose to ignore the House resolution. President Bush has ignored orders from Congress and even the Supreme Court on other issues.
Still, Congress ought to use the permitting hiatus created by this resolution to revisit the 1872 mining law. Things have changed a lot since then. It seems reasonable that ore operations should be subjected to the same environmental scrutiny as any other project in which natural resources are extracted from public lands.