Biden designates national monument near Grand Canyon—preventing uranium mining

August 9, 2023

President Joe Biden designated nearly a million acres of land near the Grand Canyon as a new national monument on Tuesday, August 8, in order to protect the area from uranium mining, Administration officials confirmed, reports The New York Times.

Biden visited Arizona on Monday, August 7, is part of a nationwide blitz by the White House to translate key policy victories to voters— including a law he signed last year to inject $370 billion in tax incentives into wind, solar, and other renewable energy—as the 2024 campaign ramps up. Senior cabinet officials are also touring the country this week, highlighting his domestic agenda.

During his first stop of a three-state tour, Biden announced that he is creating a national monument—the fifth such designation of his presidency—in an area sacred to Native American tribes, Administration officials told reporters on Monday.

“The mining is off limits for future development in that area,” Ali Zaidi, Biden’s national climate adviser, told reporters on Air Force One. “It’s focused on preserving the historical resources” in the area.

Native tribes and environmental groups long have lobbied for the government to permanently protect the area around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining, which they say would damage the Colorado River watershed as well as areas with great cultural meaning for Native Americans.

Under the proposed designation, all new uranium mining will be blocked. Uranium mining already has been restricted in the area in question since 2012, but that Obama-era moratorium was set to expire in 2032. Biden’s designation would make the conditions permanent.

Biden’s visit to Arizona was also an effort to energize crucial constituency groups in the state, even as much of the American public remains skeptical of his domestic agenda.

“We know that polls don’t tell the entire story,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said on Monday when asked about why voters seemingly do not know what it is in Biden’s bills. As the Administration continues to enact the various legislative packages, she said, “we’ll see Americans start to feel what we’ve been able to do in Washington.”

Native Americans were also a crucial voting bloc in Arizona in 2020, when the state voted for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1996.

They made up 6% of Arizona’s electorate in 2020—larger than Biden’s margin for victory, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

More than 80% of Native American voters in 2020 agreed with the statement that “the federal government should return lands stolen from Native American tribes,” according to a 2022 poll conducted by the African American Research Collaborative.

“It is likely a strategic decision to focus on the Grand Canyon,” said Gabriel Sanchez, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has researched voting trends among Native Americans. “Many Native Americans do not vote based on party, but on which candidates will do the most to advance the interests of Native American communities.”

The Administration has argued that the proposed monument represents only 1.3% of the nation’s known uranium reserves.

“This is going to be a limit on future development in this space while being respectful of existing rights,” Zaidi said.

Research contact: @nytimes