Trump’s Department of Commerce 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.
“This is the radioactive swamp in action under President Trump. The books were cooked for these uranium mining corporations when Trump appointed two former lobbyists to cabinet positions, both who previously lobbied for and represented the very corporations that stand to benefit from these recommendations. Don’t be surprised if an import quota on uranium comes down the pipeline soon. The threat of lifting the uranium mining moratorium and opening the Grand Canyon withdrawal area to industrial-scale uranium mining is real,” said Chris Saeger, Western Values Project Executive Director.
In May 2018, while Bernhardt was serving as deputy secretary, the Department of the Interior released a list of ‘35’ critical minerals that included uranium even though only nonfuel minerals were to be on the list.
Two uranium mining corporations, Ur-Energy USA Inc. and Energy Fuels Inc., then petitioned the administration to impose import quotas on uranium by filing a ‘Section 232’ probe. One of the corporations behind the uranium import quota request is a former client of Interior Secretary Bernhardt. He provided ‘legal services’ for Ur-Energy USA Inc. from 2009 to 2012. Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, another ex-lobbyist, previously worked for Energy Fuels Inc., where he lobbied the Trump administration to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
The recommendations released today by may be laying the groundwork for President Trump to impose the uranium import quota, which could lead to the administration lifting the uranium mining moratorium in the Grand Canyon area.
Background on the critical minerals list and uranium mining:
The Trump Administration May Lift The Grand Canyon Area Mineral Withdrawal, Which Could Pave The Way For Uranium Mining Companies–Including One Of Bernhardt’s Former Clients–To Operate In The Grand Canyon Area
In Response To An Executive Order From Donald Trump, The United States Forest Service (USFS) Recommended Revising The Obama-Era Uranium Withdrawal In The Grand Canyon:
On March 17, 2017, President Trump Signed Executive Order 13783 “On Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” [White House, 03/28/17]
In That Order, Trump Directed Agencies To Find Ways To Increase Domestic Energy Production, Including Nuclear. “President Donald Trump exhorted agencies to review all federal regulations that might lessen or delay domestic energy production, including nuclear energy. The administration has also expressed interest in developing more nuclear weapons, to add to the country’s current stockpile of an estimated 4,000 nuclear warheads. In May, the administration listed uranium as a critical mineral, even though only nonfuel minerals may be listed.” [High Country News, 06/12/18]
In Response To The Order, USFS Suggested Lifting The Obama-era Uranium Mining Moratorium In The Grand Canyon Area. As a result of that executive order, the USFS identified 15 recommendations, including “revising” Public Land Order 7787, “which withdrew BLM and NFS lands in the Grand Canyon watershed in the State of Arizona.” The USFS explains, “Adoption of this recommendation could re-open lands to mineral entry pursuant to the United States mining laws facilitating exploration for, and possibly development of, uranium resources.” [USDA Final Report Pursuant to Executive Order 13783 on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, 10/11/17]
While David Bernhardt Was Deputy Secretary, DOI Added Uranium To A “Critical Minerals List,” Which May Pave The Way For Uranium Miners -Including One Of Bernhardt’s Former Clients- To Mine In The Grand Canyon Withdrawal Area.
In May 2018, DOI Added Uranium To A List Of “Critical Minerals.” “In May (2018), the administration listed uranium as a critical mineral, even though only nonfuel minerals may be listed. The next week, Nevada Rep. Mark Amodei, R, added a rider to the 2019 defense spending bill that would weaken the environmental review process for critical minerals extraction.” [High Country News, 06/12/18]
Labeling Uranium As A “Critical Mineral” Means It Will Be The Administration’s Policy To “Identify New Sources” And Increase “Exploration and Mining.” “Executive Order 13817 resulted in the inclusion of uranium on a draft list of 35 ‘critical’ minerals, access to which the administration plans to prioritize. This means that for as long as uranium is listed, it will be the policy of the federal government to identify new sources of uranium, increase activity at all levels of the supply chain, ‘including exploration [and] mining,’ and streamline leasing and permitting processes to expedite exploration, production, processing, reprocessing, recycling, and domestic refining of uranium.” [Grand Canyon Trust, Summer 2018]
Rep. Raul Grijalva And Exelon, America’s Largest Nuclear Power Provider, Both Say Uranium Does Not Meet The Criteria To Be Labeled A “Critical Mineral.” “Under an executive order President Trump signed late last year, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is due to send President Trump a report this fall with ‘recommendations to streamline permitting and review processes related to developing leases,’ among other issues. That report will almost certainly recommend hastier permitting times with little environmental oversight, not just for uranium but for the entire ‘critical minerals’ list. Zinke’s promises will mean little in the face of an administration-wide push for mining deregulation. Uranium’s inclusion on the ‘critical minerals’ list is especially ironic because the nation’s largest nuclear power provider, Exelon Corp., argued during the listing process that uranium is not critical to national security. Uranium, Exelon pointed out, is neither a ‘non-fuel mineral’ nor liable to supply chain disruption, two criteria necessary for listing. [Arizona Republic, 07/03/18]
Now Uranium Miners Are Asking The Trump Administration To Put A Cap On Uranium Imports, Which Conservationists Say Will Lead To Increased Uranium Mining Near The Grand Canyon And Bears Ears National Monument. “The U.S. Commerce Department has submitted to the White House the results of a national security investigation into uranium imports, a spokesman for the department said on Monday. The “Section 232” probe was prompted by a petition filed by two U.S. uranium mining companies, Ur-Energy Inc and Energy Fuels Inc, complaining that subsidized foreign competitors, including Russia and Kazakhstan, have caused them to cut capacity and lay off workers. […] Conservation groups are concerned that boosting domestic demand for uranium will put areas of land with uranium deposits – including acres within the now-redrawn Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and contested acres near the Grand Canyon in Arizona – in danger.” [Reuters, 04/15/19]
One Of The Companies Behind The Uranium Quota Request Is A Former Client of Bernhardt’s. David Bernhardt represented Ur-Energy USA Inc. from 2009 to 2012. [U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Statement by David Bernhardt Pertaining to His 2017 Nomination To Be Deputy Secretary]
The Effects Of Uranium Mining In The Grand Canyon Withdrawal Area Could Contaminate Groundwater And Sicken The Havasupai People
The Effects Of Uranium Mining In The Grand Canyon Region Have Left “A Legacy Of Polluted Water, Contaminated Soil And Toxic Mine Sites. More than 800 active claims already dot the landscape that the moratorium covers, and many more could. […] The Havasupai want more research on whether they are exposed to dangerous uranium levels. The tribe lives at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, relying on springs and streams for water, and breccia pipes penetrate the aquifer that supplies that water. The Havasupai fear new mines could contaminate the water, if it isn’t already affected.” [High Country News, 06/12/18]