Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Utah Republicans have repeatedly said that mineral extraction considerations played no role in the decision to reduce the size of the Bears Ears National Monument. Government documents appear to contradict that claim.
The Washington Post reports that a Canadian firm, Energy Fuels Resources, urged the Trump administration to reduce the monument to make it easier to access uranium ore within the original boundaries of the monument. The nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits next to the original borders of the monument established by President Barack Obama.
In a May 25 letter to the Interior Department, Chief Operating Officer Mark Chalmers wrote that the 1.35 million-acre expanse Obama created “could affect existing and future mill operations.” He later noted, “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”
Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R-Utah) addressed the energy considerations in an interview Monday. “The only thing that smacks of energy is the uranium,” he said. “The uranium deposits are outside the monument now.”
Energy Fuels Resources did not just weigh in on national monuments through public-comment letters. It hired a team of lobbyists at Faegre Baker Daniels — led by Andrew Wheeler, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy secretary — to work on the matter and other federal policies affecting the company. It paid the firm $30,000 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, according to federal lobbying records, for work on this and other priorities.
The price of uranium needs to jump to $40 or $50 per pound to make mining profitable. Right now, the price is about half of that, but officials expect the construction of more nuclear power plants in Asia will drive the price higher.