Mon, Sep 11, 2023 3:47 PM
By Cameron Arcand, The Center Square
The Arizona Senate is inching closer to a lawsuit with the federal government after a national monument was declared in northern Arizona last month to limit mining in the area.
President Joe Biden visited the state in August to speak about the Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument, which is nearly 1 million acres.
However, some Republicans have considered the move to be unconstitutional.
"Using the guise of creating a 'Grand Canyon' national monument in a remote area that is not even connected to the Grand Canyon is completely disingenuous," Senate President Warren Petersen said in a statement Monday. "This move has nothing to do with protecting the Grand Canyon. It has everything to do with fulfilling his tyrannic desires to block responsible mining and agriculture production in an effort to cater to the extremists who elected him into office. I look forward to fighting on behalf of Arizona in court."
According to the state Senate press release, the lawsuit is anticipated to be filed at the end of this year or in early 2024, saying that they are currently in the "fact-finding phase" regarding stakeholders that may be negatively impacted by the monument's creation.
Gov. Katie Hobbs' office commented on the legal threat Monday.
"The designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni will safeguard one of Arizona's most important water supplies, continue to support strong economic activity in communities across the state, and preserve a cultural and natural treasure for future generations. Any opposition to this designation goes against the best interests of all Arizonans and ignores the shared benefits of recognizing this land," said Communications Director Christian Slater in an email to The Center Square. "Governor Hobbs stands by her support for the Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni Monument and she will continue advocating for and with the tribal communities in Arizona."
The monument serves as a major development in the debate of whether or not it's ethical to mine near the Grand Canyon, as well as the complex tribal dynamics in the region. Uranium is typically used for nuclear power, which is an alternative to fossil fuels. The federal government has promoted the intention of the monument to preserve tribal history.
"Existing mining claims – predating a 20-year mineral withdraw initiated in 2012 – will remain in place, and the two approved mining operations within the boundaries of the monument would be able to operate," a White House release states.
When The Center Square reached out to the U.S. Department of the Interior for comment, they deferred to an August 8 news release.
"Today's action by President Biden makes clear that Native American history is American history. This land is sacred to the many Tribal Nations who have long advocated for its protection, and establishing a national monument demonstrates the importance of recognizing the original stewards of our public lands," Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland said in the release.
Senate Democrats responded to the legal threat from the majority caucus on Monday.
"Republicans are well aware that this monument designation does not impact private property rights," said Director of Communications Calli Jones. "They went on a several hour long 'fact-finding mission' in Mohave County on the tax payers' dime already which turned up nothing. Senate Republican Leadership has set a dangerous precedent of wasting time and money on political games. This monument designation is not only extremely popular but serves as a critical step in protecting sacred native heritage."