Uranium Miners Pushed Hard for a Comeback. They Got Their Wish.
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MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah — Garry Holiday grew up among the abandoned mines that dot the Navajo Nation’s red landscape, remnants of a time when uranium helped cement America’s status as a nuclear superpower and fueled its nuclear energy program.
It left a toxic legacy. All but a few of the 500 abandoned mines still await cleanup. Mining tainted the local groundwater. Mr. Holiday’s father succumbed to respiratory disease after years of hacking the ore from the earth.
But now, emboldened by the Trump administration’s embrace of corporate interests, the uranium mining industry is renewing a push into the areas adjacent to Mr. Holiday’s Navajo Nation home: the Grand Canyon watershed to the west, where a new uranium mine is preparing to open, and the Bears Ears National Monument to the north.
The Trump administration is set to shrink Bears Ears by 85 percent next month, potentially opening more than a million acres to mining, drilling and other industrial activity. But even as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke declared last month that “there is no mine within Bears Ears,” there were more than 300 uranium mining claims inside the monument, according to data from Utah’s Bureau of Land Management office that was reviewed by The New York Times.
The vast majority of those claims fall neatly outside the new boundaries of Bears Ears set by the administration. And an examination of local B.L.M. records, including those not yet entered into the agency’s land and mineral use authorizations database, shows that about a third of the claims are linked to Energy Fuels, a Canadian uranium producer. Energy Fuels also owns the Grand Canyon mine, where groundwater has already flooded the main shaft.
Energy Fuels, together with other mining groups, lobbied extensively for a reduction of Bears Ears, preparing maps that marked the areas it wanted removed from the monument and distributing them during a visit to the monument by Mr. Zinke in May.