Development work continues at Pinyon Plain Mine as congressional clock ticks down
VALLE, Ariz. — On Nov. 22, Energy Fuels Resources, which owns Pinyon Plain Mine near Valle, posted a job ad on Craigslist seeking miners and support personnel.
The move fueled speculation that operations at the mine site may soon lurch forward. Energy Fuels also announced Nov. 14 that it had agreed to sell its Alta Mesa ISR Project assets to enCore Energy and may use some of the cash infusion from the sale to ramp up production at one or more of its uranium mining facilities — including Pinyon Plain Mine.
The idea that Energy Fuels is going to begin extracting uranium from the site, however, is premature.
Curtis Moore, vice president of marketing and corporate development for Energy Fuels, said work has been ongoing at Pinyon Plain Mine since June, but it doesn’t include mining.
“It would still be well over a year before we could begin mining, as there is still quite a bit of development work that needs to be done at the site,” he said.
While active mining at Pinyon Plain Mine won’t be happening in the near future — Moore said the company hasn’t yet decided when it will begin mining operations — the news renewed the urgency of both environmental groups and the Havasupai Tribe.
The Havasupai Tribe has long argued against uranium mining within the Grand Canyon watershed. The tribe, which lives at the bottom of a side canyon just outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park, fears mining operations will permanently poison its drinking water supply. Tourism to the turquoise pools and waterfalls – which the tribe relies on almost exclusively for income – could also be affected for decades to come.
Havasupai Chairman Thomas Siyuja Sr. said the negative impacts of uranium mining have disproportionately affected Indigenous people across northern Arizona.
“It is time to permanently ban uranium mining — not only to preserve the Havasupai Tribe’s cultural identity and our existence as the Havasupai People, but to protect the Grand Canyon for generations to come,” he said. “We know the irreparable damage that uranium mining can do. The Senate must pass the Grand Canyon Protection Act and once and for all permanently ban any new uranium mines on our ancestral lands.”
The Grand Canyon Trust, along with the Havasupai Tribe, have been key partners in the creation of the Grand Canyon Protection Act. The bill, sponsored by Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, would permanently withdraw just over one million acres adjacent to the Grand Canyon from development – specifically mining.
Development of more than 600 mining claims was halted in 2012, when then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar ordered a 20-year ban on mining near the park. The current Grand Canyon Protection Act seeks to make that ban permanent. However, if the ban expires in 2032 without further action, or is overturned in a federal court, stakeholders would be free to develop the mining sites.
“Pinyon Plain Mine remains a shameful example of why the Grand Canyon region must be permanently protected from further mining,” said Amber Reimondo, energy director for the Grand Canyon Trust. “For over 30 years, the Havasupai Tribe has been clear about the harm this mine causes. Yet regulators still focus only on when and how to allow it, rather than whether this uranium mine should be allowed at all.”
Congress recesses on Jan. 3. If the bill, which has been twice passed by the House of Representatives, doesn’t garner a vote in the Senate, it is dead in its current form. That means supporters will have to start over with a new Congress and work the bill through House for a third time.
With the clock ticking down on this congressional session, there are a lot of competing priorities and the GCPA is still waiting to be brought to the floor for a vote. Supporters can still try to keep the bill at the forefront by calling and/or emailing senators and encouraging them to pass it.
However, even if the GCPA passes the Senate and becomes law, Pinyon Plain Mine will still be able to continue its operations. Existing mines that were approved under the temporary ban will be grandfathered in if the GCPA makes the ban permanent.
For the Havasupai Tribe, as well as the organizations and individuals opposing uranium mining, the fight is less about Pinyon Plain Mine and more about what the bill’s failure could mean for the future.
“Interest in uranium mining has very much increased, as the price per pound has gone up,” said the Trust’s Reimondo. “The threat that other mines like it could take hold in the region is very real.”
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