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Business, conservation groups back Salazar in blocking uranium drilling near Grand Canyon

After an Arizona Republican this week successfully attached a mining rider to a spending bill that would torpedo Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s ban on new uranium mining claims within 1 million acres of the Grand Canyon, Arizona business, sportsmen and conservation groups are once again rallying behind the moratorium.

“Secretary Salazar made the right decision to support tourism by protecting the Grand Canyon from uranium mining,” said Jennifer Wesselhoff, president and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce (pdf). “The sponsors of this rider need to understand that they are hurting our economy, not helping it, if they allow new mining claims to move forward.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., added the mining rider to the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, which will be voted on by the full House by the end of July. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., unsuccessfully tried to strike the rider during a mark-up of the bill in the House Appropriations Committee, according to the Associated Press.

In announcing his preference for a 20-year ban on new mining claims last month, Salazar addressed the issue of an expected Republican challenge in the House. Refusing to predict what opponents would do, he said, “Let us be cautious. Caution could protect our water supplies and wildlife habitat, and preserve these areas for future generations to enjoy.”

Tourism to Grand Canyon National Park generates nearly $700 million a year (pdf), while hunting and fishing brings more than $1.34 billion a year into the state economy and supports 17,000 jobs. A new uranium boom in and around the Grand Canyon could industrialize the region and threaten the Colorado River shed, which supplies water to more than 25 million people in the American Southwest, opponents say.

“Uranium mining threatens to pollute our clean water and spoil habitat for fish and big game near the Grand Canyon,” said Jim Stipe, chairman of the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited. “Fishing and hunting are big business in Arizona, especially near the Grand Canyon, and have been for generations.”

Colorado has seen increased uranium mining speculation in recent months as the first new processing mill in decades draws closer to final approval along the Colorado-Utah border in western Montrose County. Local opposition has been ramping up as various legal challenges work their way through the court system.

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