Grand Canyon Under Threat As Trump’s Nuclear Working Group Considers Allowing Uranium Mining

Pressure Mounts from Right-Wing Industry Groups to Revoke Protections, Allow Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon

Right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation have previously recommended revoking the mineral withdrawal area, which would again allow dangerous uranium mining around Grand Canyon National Park. Meanwhile, the White House Nuclear Fuel Working Group — a working group reviewing how to support the uranium and nuclear energy industry — missed another deadline for delivering its recommendations to the administration, prolonging a decision on whether the Trump administration will revoke the Grand Canyon Mining Withdrawal Area.

“Should the Trump administration opt to side with the extreme measures recommended by an industry-funded think tank like the Heritage Foundation, the future of one of America’s most cherished national parks will be at risk,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project. “Our public lands, waterways and national parks are far too important to allow industry-backed groups to dictate policy, but that has been the hallmark of the Trump presidency.” 

The Heritage Foundation’s recommendations include the so-called restoration of the 1984 Arizona Wilderness Act. This would repeal a 2012 Obama-era decision that halted mineral mining on over 1 million acres of wilderness and public lands around the Grand Canyon National Park. Repealing the mineral mining withdrawal area would grossly over-benefit uranium mining corporations by allowing access to uranium deposits on formally federally-protected public lands.  

Heritage’s recommends also go as far as suggesting the administration repeal the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — a 50-year-old environmental law that ensures federal agencies consider the potential environmental consequences of any large-scale project they take on. The Trump administration has a history of repealing conservation and environmental protections, with presently 85 rules being challenged or rolled back. 

It would be unsurprising if the Trump administration and Interior Secretary Bernhardt opted to follow Heritage’s recommendations in siding with uranium mining corporations. The Trump administration is stacked with former Heritage alumni and at least four current appointees with connections to the group work at the Interior Department. 

Additionally, allowing further access to mineral mining corporations around the Grand Canyon would potentially benefit one of Bernhardt’s former lobbying clients: Ur-Energy USA Inc. The mining corporation, along with Energy Fuels Inc., petitioned the Trump administration in January 2018, to impose import quotas on uranium by filing a ‘Section 232’ probe. 


The Trump administration inexplicably included uranium on the ‘critical minerals’ list even though it failed to meet the criteria of the original executive order. This move signaled a threat to the 20-year moratorium on new uranium and other hard-rock mining claims in the Grand Canyon’s watershed.

Previously, Sec. Bernhardt has shown a pattern of siding with mining corporations, already proposing a dangerous rule that would allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to rent public lands to non-energy mineral extractive corporations at a cheaper price and cut royalty rates on public lands — a boon for the former mega-lobbyist’s clients. The proposed rule raised questions, once again, about the Secretary’s ties to industrial mining corporations and his allegiances to his former clients. 

Bernhardt provided ‘legal services’ for Ur-Energy USA Inc. from 2009 to 2012. Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, another ex-lobbyist, previously represented Energy Fuels Inc. where he successfully lobbied the Trump administration to illegally reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah because of its proximity to the corporation’s uranium mine and processing facility.

The Trump administration’s Forest Service recommended that the Grand Canyon Withdrawal Area be lifted “as part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to sweep away regulations impeding development.” The Department of Commerce also released sweeping recommendations on ‘critical minerals’ that call for the deregulation of mining and an expedited permitting process for industrial-scale development on federal public lands.

The Koch Brothers have funded both the Heritage Foundation and other industry front groups that opposed a ban on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. Acting Interior Solicitor Daniel Jorjani was a former ‘key Koch employee’ and became one of their ‘highest paid employees.’

The Charles Koch Foundation gave $300,000 to the Heritage Foundation in 2013.  “Other major contributions during 2013 went to free market-oriented think tanks, research groups and educational organizations. Among them are the American Enterprise Institute ($910,000); Liberty Source, known now as Strata ($653,000); the Bill of Rights Institute ($350,000) and the Heritage Foundation($300,000).” [The Center For Public Integrity, 10/30/15]

Koch-Funded Donors Trust also gives money to the Heritage Foundation. “Donors Trust is not the source of the money it hands out. Some 200 right-of-center funders who’ve given at least $10,000 fill the group’s coffers. Charities bankrolled by Charles and David Koch, the DeVoses, and the Bradleys, among other conservative benefactors, have given to Donors Trust.” [Mother Jones, 02/13/13

Charles And David Koch funded the Arizona-based Prosper Inc. and Prosper Foundation Inc. “A dark money group backed by Charles and David Koch is behind a well-funded effort to undermine protections at the Grand Canyon and overturn the Antiquities Act, the law President Teddy Roosevelt used to permanently protect the area in 1908. If successful, the campaign could stop a permanent ban on uranium mining near the canyon’s rim, despite support for such a ban by a vast majority of Arizonans. […] The Koch brothers’ anti-park effort is being run through the Arizona-based Prosper Inc. and its sister organization the Prosper Foundation Inc., which share a physical address, a logo, a staff, and a founder — Kirk Adams. Adams served as Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives from 2009 to 2011, ran a failed attempt for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, and is currently the Chief of Staff to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.” [ThinkProgress, 03/02/16]

Prosper Inc.’s website only touted two major issues, one of which included defeating the Grand Canyon Monument. “Adams’ group and its sister organization, Prosper Inc., are touted as ‘social welfare that supports and defends free-market principles,’ but according to Prosper Inc.’s website, it only has two big issues: Defeating the Grand Canyon Monument and drumming up support for Proposition 123, Ducey’s proposal to raise money for public education by dipping into the state’s land trust fund.” [Phoenix New Times, 04/18/16]

Prosper received more than 80% of its total budget from an organization led by a consultant with “deep ties” to the Koch Brothers. “Interested in learning more about the Prosper Foundation, [Greg] Zimmerman [of the Center for Western Priorities looked through its 990 tax forms, which not-for-profit groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service. He found that between 2013 and 2014, the foundation received more than $1.5m – or 83% of its total budget – from a political-advocacy organization called American Encore.” [The Guardian, 04/21/16]

Join the effort to strengthen the American West.