Source: Roll Call | Jacob Holzman | March 4, 2019

House panel plans oversight hearing on monuments next week

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a review that led to substantially reduced boundaries for Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. A company tied to mineral interests there met with a senior Interior Department official nearly a month before President Donald Trump requested the review. (George Frey/Getty Images file photo)

A meeting between an Interior Department official and a company tied to mineral interests in the Bears Ears National Monument area — almost a month before President Donald Trump requested a review that substantially reduced its boundaries — may end up in the crosshairs of House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva.

Documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian energy firm, met with a top Interior official who would be involved with the review before Trump requested it.

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 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that were developed during the review, significantly reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

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 the panel’s Democrats.

The committee has invited Zinke, who resigned and left last December amid corruption charges, to attend. But he declined, according to Sarvana.

Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat, plans to investigate the monuments review.

He said if an individual involved with the review met with Energy Fuels before the review began, “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,” he said.

In statements, both Interior and Energy Fuels Resources confirmed the meeting on April 5, 2017. Interior’s monument review began April 26.

Curtis Moore, Energy Fuels Resources vice president of marketing and corporate development, said in a Feb. 26 email, “Our recollection is that the April meeting was very brief, but we did inquire about the possibility of minor boundary adjustments to move the boundaries away from our existing operations.”

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