U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar wants to force the Biden administration to abandon its plans for the Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, which he says will harm Arizona and America by effectively barring uranium mining in much of Arizona. Photo by George Frey | Getty Images
Saying that stopping companies from mining uranium from lands near the Grand Canyon is a threat to national security, an Arizona Republican won preliminary approval of an amendment that would reverse President Joe Biden’s creation earlier this year of a national monument in northern Arizona.
“Arizona already boasts more national monuments than any other state,” Gosar said. “We do not want any more monument designations.”
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President Joe Biden visited Arizona in August to announce the newly designated Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, effectively barring mining and other economic activity on roughly a million acres of land in northern Arizona near Grand Canyon National Park.
A voice vote on Nov. 2 adopted the amendment during a U.S. House of Representatives session focused on the fiscal year 2024 spending legislation for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.
Gosar’s amendment to House Bill 4821 would bar the Department of the Interior from spending money to implement, administer, or enforce the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni-Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument.
At risk, the Arizona Republican said, is economic security for Arizonans and national security if uranium mining is banned in a large swath of northern Arizona.
“The area in question is home to the highest grade and largest quantity of uranium deposits in the United States,” Gosar said, and having this area under the no mining protections not only affects Arizona but also harms the national security of the entire country.
“It’s nothing short of a full-scale attack on the livelihoods of many of my constituents,” he added. “It sets back our nation’s national security and even strengthens Russia.”
Gosar said the claim that the monument’s designation is an effort to protect the Grand Canyon is “completely disingenuous.”
“No one wants a mine within the Grand Canyon,” he said, noting that several existing laws already protect the Grand Canyon and that the land making up the designated area for the monument is miles away from the boundaries of the buffer area of the Grand Canyon National Park.
Gosar has long been a proponent of uranium mining in Arizona, and even called on the U.S. government to subsidize mining companies to jump-start extraction projects in the Grand Canyon State and across the country.
Gosar’s amendment passed through the U.S. House, but its fate is unclear in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a majority. And if it does survive the legislative process, it’s likely to earn a veto from Biden.
Gosar’s amendment request comes nearly two months after the Arizona Senate announced its plans to sue Biden to block the national monument.
The Biden administration said the monument designation won’t affect any mining rights already in place.
“The national monument designation recognizes and respects valid existing rights,” Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland said during the announcement in August.
The proclamation outlines that maintenance and upgrades to water infrastructure will continue, and utility lines, pipelines and roads will be maintained.
“Existing mining claims — predating a 20-year mineral withdrawal initiated in 2012 — will remain in place,” Haaland said, and the two approved mining operations within the monument’s boundaries could operate.
“The national monument only includes federal lands and does not include state and private lands within the boundary or affect the property rights of the state or private landowners,” she added.
The monument will comprise three distinct areas: south, northeast, and northwest of Grand Canyon National Park.
U.S. House Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) opposed the amendment, saying that it would prohibit using federal funds to implement, administer or enforce the presidential proclamation.
“The Antiquities Act provides a president with the authority to designate national monuments in order to protect objects of historic or scientific interests,” Pingree said, noting that the monument area is significant to many tribal nations.
“This amendment inappropriately restricts the president’s ability to declare national monuments in specific parts of the country,” she added, noting that both Republican and Democratic presidents have used this authority to increase the protection of federal lands.
“The Antiquities Act represents an important achievement in the progress of conservation and preservation efforts in the United States,” Pingree said. “Congress should not stand in the way of these achievements.”
In terms of the area being ancestral land for Indigenous people, Gosar dismissed the idea, saying that “anything can be that way.”
He said public lands were established by “our founders” to be used and improved for multiple purposes, including mining and energy development.
“Not conservation,” Gosar added.
The Grand Canyon is the ancestral homeland of multiple tribal nations across the Southwest, and tribes still rely on the canyon for natural and cultural resources that are significant and sacred to their communities.
In April, tribal leaders, alongside state and federal officials, launched an effort to sustain the natural resources of the Grand Canyon by calling on Biden to designate land surrounding the Grand Canyon National Park as a national monument by using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
Their efforts succeeded when Biden designed the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in August.
The name is a mixture of the traditional Havasupai and Hopi languages. Baaj Nwaavjo means “where tribes roam” for the Havasupai Tribe, and I’tah Kukveni means “our footprints” for the Hopi Tribe.
The new monument spans 917,618 acres of public lands managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service.
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