Biden must act to avert oil and gas, uranium threats
The twin threats of drilling and mining just inched a little closer to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Meanwhile, more than 200 days into the process of reviewing those monuments’ boundaries and status, President Biden still hasn’t taken decisive action to restore their protection.
The Department of the Interior has now resumed oil and gas leasing on public lands, following a judge’s legally questionable injunction. Separately, the Biden administration is moving toward the establishment of a national uranium reserve, which was first requested by the Trump administration. While the Department of Energy says that plan would only draw from existing uranium mining sites, there is concern that it could lead to mining in previously undisturbed areas.
More than 200 days after Biden started the process of restoring monument protections, the twin threats of drilling and mining are inching closer to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante
Both developments crank up the pressure on these irreplaceable landscapes. In 2021, a number of new mining and drilling claims have already been staked on land then-President Trump unlawfully cut from Bears Ears National Monument. That includes tens of thousands of acres’ worth of leases nominated by oil and gas companies, plus uranium claims. The oil and gas leasing un-pause makes it more likely that parts of Bears Ears will end up on the auction block for drilling, while policies that encourage more domestic uranium production could incentivize dangerous development in some areas still awaiting restored protections.
Uranium mining poses toxic health threat
The dangers now facing these monuments go far beyond effects on the physical landscape. Uranium mining and associated waste in the water, soil and air surrounding development sites has been linked to health threats like cancer and kidney disease. These consequences plagued Navajo communities in the Southwest for decades, leading Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer to say the Nation opposes uranium permitting on or near any Tribal lands.
One uranium mining claim in land cut from Bears Ears has already resulted in an actual excavation, the reclaimed Easy Peasy Mine in 2018. Easy Peasy is now closed, but could be re-opened if full monument protection isn’t restored (and in the meantime, waste rock and radiation is still hanging around).
If mining starts up again at the uranium mine to the east of Bears Ears, ore would likely need to be trucked through the heart of the monument to be refined and processed
Additionally, the suspended Daneros uranium mine sits just outside the original Bears Ears National Monument, to the west, while the White Mesa Mill abuts the monument to the east. If mining starts up again at Daneros, ore would likely need to be trucked through the heart of the monument to be refined and processed, meaning more exposure.
As has been pointed out by Indigenous leaders and their conservation partners, restoring Bears Ears is an environmental justice issue. The possibility of uranium mining endangering Indigenous and other communities in the region only underscores that urgency. It was a uranium company that lobbied the Trump administration to exclude potentially ore-rich areas from Bears Ears’ boundaries in the first place; now we need to rebuff the efforts of extractive interests and instead follow the lead of the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe, who have valued and stewarded the land since time immemorial without diminishing it.
It’s time for President Biden to keep his promise
The U.S. should not be encouraging drilling and mining on sensitive public lands, let alone subsidizing that development. These threats especially underscore the need for President Biden to immediately deliver on his promise and restore protection to Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments, before danger can creep any closer.
Please join us in calling on President Biden to restore protections to Bears Ears and other national monuments!