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WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is extending by six months a controversial moratorium on any new uranium mining on a million acres in the Grand Canyon area on federal lands in Arizona and Utah.
The decision announced Monday at the Grand Canyon National Park was applauded by the National Parks Conservation Association and multiple tourism-dependent groups worried that new mining activity would jeopardize the park's natural beauty and present air quality concerns.
"This announcement is wonderful news for the millions of people who live near and visit the Grand Canyon each year, as well as the tens of millions more across our nation who believe the integrity and natural state of this awe-inspiring location should not be compromised," said David Nimkin, director of the association's Southwest Regional Office.
The proposed 20-year moratorium was set to expire on July 20, but Salazar extended his review of the proposal until Dec. 20, saying more time is necessary to study the vast array of implications for the park.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, panned the decision to extend the moratorium, saying it represents just another roadblock by the Obama administration toward the nation achieving any credible energy independence.
"Our country's energy future remains in limbo because Secretary Salazar has chosen to placate his anti-energy special interest cronies," Bishop said. "Instead of using his executive power to create policies that foster greater energy independence, he has done the exact opposite, driving us toward increased reliance on foreign resources."
Bishop is chairman of the House Natural Resources, National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee and has been vocal critic of Salazar's public lands policies.
The extension of the moratorium is ill-advised, Bishop added, since the area is known to contain one of the country's most abundant high-grade uranium deposits. He added that such a ban makes little sense when the 104 nuclear reactors in the country require uranium to produce energy, and the nation still imports 90 percent of the total uranium used for nuclear energy production.
With the the nation's attention turned to nuclear energy as a possible alternative to carbon-based fuel, the Grand Canyon area has witnessed a spike in new mining claims.
Salazar issued the moratorium two years ago and has said he believes the area should be off limits to any new claims for 20 years.