President Joe Biden is strongly considering declaring a vast area around the Grand Canyon as the nation’s newest national monument, according to two sources familiar with the plans.
Biden will visit Arizona next week as part of a swing through that state, New Mexico and Utah. The president is expected to talk during the trip about his administration’s response to climate change and investments in clean energy as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.
“No decisions have been made,” White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan said in a statement, commenting on the potential designation. “But I can tell you that President Biden has conserved more land and water in his first year than any president since JFK, and his climate protection record is unmatched.”
The Washington Post first reported on the consideration.
Tribes are asking the White House to protect about 1.1 million acres of additional state and federal lands that surround the Grand Canyon by designating it as the new Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni Grand Canyon National Monument. The designation would protect the area from potential uranium mining.
“There are some places in the world, and the Grand Canyon’s one of them, that deserve to be protected,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the Democratic ranking member on the House Committee on Natural Resources, told CNN. “I hope that’s where the president is leaning.”
As a 2012 Obama-era ban on new uranium mining in the area is set to soon expire, tribes are concerned about how future mining might affect clean water and disrupt sacred lands. It’s not the first time tribes have asked the federal government to protect the area.
“We tried this during the Obama administration; we did everything necessary to gain the support,” Grand Canyon tribal coalition coordinator Carletta Tilousi, a Havasupai Tribe member, told CNN. But Obama ultimately chose to designate the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, Tilousi added.
“This is our second attempt, with the Biden administration,” she said.
The Biden administration has been gathering public input on the designation for months, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland – the first Native American Cabinet secretary – visited the area in May and met with tribal leaders. Haaland and her staff hiked 10 miles into the canyon to visit Supai Village, a small village that is the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation.
“She was a trooper,” Tilousi said. “That really meant a lot to the village that she was able to make that commitment.”
Arizona lawmakers including Grijalva and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent, have also been pushing the White House and administration to designate the monument.
“This is a continuation of a fight that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years,” Grijalva said.