Environmental Protection

Zinke fingered in Bears Ears corruption probe over uranium mining interests

An energy firm linked to uranium mining interests around Bears Ears National Monument in Utah met with a senior Department of Interior official just one month President Donald Trump issued a surprise request to review the monument’s boundaries. When the review concluded, Trump shrank the monument by 85%. Some 100 uranium claims that were previously *inside* the monument’s protected boundary were suddenly on the outside.

Now, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) says Democrats plan hold a hearing on March 13, to look into that shady review.

They sent an invitation to Ryan Zinke, who led the Department of the Interior under Trump at that time and was forced to resign in disgrace over other corruption charges.

Zinke declined the invitation.

Roll Call reports that documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a United States subsidiary of a Canadian energy and mining firm, met with a top DOI official who knew he’d be personally involved with such a review, before Trump requested it.

The House Natural Resources Committee wants know if the 2017 reassessment “had a predetermined outcome of shrinking Bears Ears to benefit the uranium sector generally and Energy Fuels Resources specifically.”

From Roll Call:

When President Barack Obama designated the monument in December 2016, its boundaries encompassed or abutted over 350 uranium claims tied to the company. Its uranium processing mill, the only such facility in the United States, was located mere miles from the monument. Proximity to a national monument can lead to additional regulatory scrutiny.

In December 2017, Trump, following recommendations by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that were developed during the review, significantly reduced the size of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Trump’s revamped boundaries for Bears Ears also likely removed all of more than 100 uranium claims tied to Energy Fuels.

The Natural Resources committee is scheduled to hold its first oversight hearing on the monuments review on March 13, said Adam Sarvana, communications director for Democrats on the panel.

The committee has invited Zinke, who resigned and left in December 2018 amid corruption charges, to attend. It also invited Interior to send a representative. Both declined.

Grijalva told Roll Call that if anyone involved with the review that led to the reduction of Bears Ears’ boundaries met with Energy Fuels before the review commenced, “all my suspicions as to the motivation behind the shrinkage would be validated… I think it would make our need to get at the bottom of it … it would make it even more significant.”

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