Mining near the Grand Canyon? |

Mining near the Grand Canyon?

Bob Christie
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

PHOENIX ” The Interior Department is challenging a U.S. House committee vote that puts one million acres of public land near the Grand Canyon off limits to new uranium mining.

A letter sent to House Natural Resources Committee chairman Rep. Nick Rahall from an Interior Department official this week says the emergency resolution passed on June 25 can’t stand because the committee lacked a quorum.

Rahall wrote back to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Wednesday, telling him that he was mistaken about House rules and that the action would stand.

The measure was advanced by Democrat Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, who said a rush of uranium mining claims threatened the natural landscape that lures five million visitors to the Grand Canyon National Park each year.

Grijalva said Thursday that the Interior Department was using a delaying tactic and was factually wrong in trying to say the resolution wasn’t binding. He said the committee would press the point legally if needed.

“It is an end run, and it is particularly insulting to the Resources Committee that instead of having Secretary Kempthorne communicate to us they have some low-level Bush appointee communicate to us,” Grijalva said. “We’re to the point that our patience with the secretary is running thin.”

Interior Department spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said Thursday that officials had just received Rahall’s reply letter and could not comment.

The committee’s emergency declaration invoked a rare provision in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act not used in more than 20 years. It passed on a 20-2 vote after Republicans walked out of the hearing in protest.

The measure found that an emergency situation exists and required the Interior Department to stop issuing new mining claims. It has no effect on more than 10,000 claims already secured on Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service property near the park, according to the Interior Department.

The Interior Department letter from congressional and legislative affairs Director Matt Eames said the committee needed 25 members present to act on the measure and fell three votes shy. As a result, he wrote, “we do not believe that the resolution constitutes a notification of the committee, as required under the statute.”

Rahall, D-W.Va., wrote that the pertinent House rule allows the committee to act with 17 members. He told Kempthorne that he was required by law to withdraw the lands specified in the resolution.

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