GRAND CANYON VILLAGE, Arizona — President Biden, amid heat waves and fierce storms that are disrupting lives around the world, is planning on Tuesday to use this area’s historic lands and dramatic natural landscapes as a backdrop for touting his administration’s efforts to invest in clean energy and combat climate change.
In remarks from the historic Red Butte Airfield, Biden is expected to highlight his efforts to protect and conserve natural resources while promoting his investments in climate action, at a time when polling has shown that many voters disapprove of his handling of climate change.
Biden on Tuesday is also designating a vast area as a national monument to safeguard it from uranium mining, which local tribal leaders and environmentalists have said would protect aquifers and water supplies and honor long-standing Native American connections to the land.
Creating the new monument — called the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, or Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon — is an action that Biden said honors tribal nations and “preserves America’s iconic landscapes for future generations.” The move, Biden said in a statement, conserves nearly 1 million acres and advances his commitment to protect and conserve at least 30 percent of American land and water by 2030.
The name of the monument, the fifth that Biden has named as president, is meant to reflect the significance of the area to various tribal nations. Baaj nwaavjo means “where Indigenous peoples roam” in the Havasupai language, and i’tah kukveni means “our ancestral footprints” in the Hopi language.
Returning from a week-long vacation, Biden arrived here on Monday evening for a three-state tour largely designed to promote his climate agenda and the billions of dollars in investment that the Inflation Reduction Act is pouring into clean energy.
He plans to speak from Arcosa Wind Towers in Albuquerque on Wednesday before traveling to Salt Lake City to visit a Veterans Affairs facility on Thursday and mark the first anniversary of the Pact Act, which expanded benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during military service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The president’s trip includes fundraisers in Albuquerque and Salt Lake City, as he continues gearing up for the 2024 presidential race.
Members of Biden’s Cabinet are also traveling across the country this week in an effort to draw attention to the administration’s accomplishments. Spreading that message has often been challenging for the White House, and the task has grown more complicated with so much attention focused on former president Donald Trump, who was indicted last week on charges related to alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election.
Almost a year after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, nearly 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of climate change, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. The survey also found that few adults said they know a good amount or great deal about the Inflation Reduction Act, underscoring the challenge confronting the White House as it attempts to educate a weary public about one of the most sweeping bills Biden has signed into law as president.
While he and his Cabinet are renewing efforts to promote the law, the president and his top aides have already made roughly 120 stops in nearly 40 states and territories to tout the IRA and other parts of Biden’s agenda.
The dilemma on climate change mirrors Biden’s challenges on the economy. While economic indicators are showing positive signs, recent polling shows that most Americans still have pessimistic views of the economy and disapprove of Biden’s handling of it.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the polls were a reflection of the current moment, but they hoped that Biden’s push would alter the public perception.
“We know that polls don’t tell the entire story,” she said. “That’s just a fact. Right? it doesn’t. it’s a snapshot of time.”
Ali Zaidi, assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor, added that Biden’s policies were transforming the energy sector and touted investments in electric vehicles, solar and wind power.
“I think the signal we’re getting is that the American people and frankly, people all around the world, want everybody to go as fast as they can faster and faster, picking up the pace of climate action,” he said.
Biden’s Western tour comes as weather-related catastrophes have flared around the world, causing fires throughout the Mediterranean and evacuations from the World Scout Jamboree in Buan, South Korea, after hundreds of scouts suffered from heat-related illnesses. Arizona set heat records with temperatures above 110 degrees throughout July, as Southwestern states fought over water rights from the shrinking Colorado River.
The national monument designation follows years of lobbying from tribal leaders and environmentalists, who have wanted to double the protected area around the Grand Canyon and include about 1.1 million acres of public lands. The official monument will be smaller, 917,618 acres, reduced in part to avoid taking in private or state-held lands, senior administration officials said.
“This monument will show that we are beginning to protect the lands of the world,” Dianna Sue WhiteDove Uqualla, a Havasupai Tribal Council member, said in a July statement anticipating the decision and provided by a coalition of monument advocates.
The potential designation has been opposed by uranium mining interests, who have said that creating the monument would limit their ability to tap some of the country’s highest-grade uranium deposits at a time when the fuel could help meet clean energy goals. The designation is also opposed by some ranchers in southern Utah who graze their cattle in the winter on public lands that are part of the proposed new monument area.
Senior administration officials and monument advocates dismiss the uranium issue as minor, saying only 1.3 percent of U.S. uranium reserves are in the Grand Canyon region. But industry advocates call that misleading.
The deposits near the canyon come with geological advantages, they say, especially high-grade ore close to the surface, meaning more pounds can be mined for every dollar spent. Uranium mines there have the potential to be some of the lowest cost and lowest impact environmentally nationwide, Steve Trussell, executive director of the Arizona Mining Association, said in an email.
“To be clear, these are very small, very low-impact mines — less than 20 acres in size — and they are completely safe and responsible, and they contain a lot of clean energy,” Trussell said. “Creating a National Monument in this region would directly hinder the Biden Administration’s policies on clean energy.”
Only one active uranium mine remains in all of Arizona, down from what had been several in the early 1980s, according to Trussell. And while the monument has support from several Arizona political leaders, some local officials are opposed, calling it a further risk to jobs and the local economy.
Officials in Mohave County, in the northwest corner of the state, said more than half of the monument — as previously proposed by its advocates — would have been in their county. In May they joined several other nearby counties on the Utah side of the border in writing a letter telling the Biden administration not to make the designation, saying it would undermine decisions from Congress decades ago that specifically preserved areas for mining and grazing alongside other areas that got more environmental protections.
“We will use (every) means at our disposal to fight” a new monument, Buster Johnson, a Mohave County supervisor, said in an email.
But Democrats applauded the creation of the monument, saying it is a critical move to honor tribal nations and preserve the country’s natural heritage.
“Thanks to the tireless efforts of the tribes — the original guardians and stewards of the Grand Canyon — we are witnessing the culmination of a monumental journey,” Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement. “Together with the Biden-Harris administration, we’re ensuring the protection of the region’s vast and rich natural resources, safeguarding cultural heritage, and preserving the incredible beauty of this iconic landscape for generations to come.”
In addition to this week’s action, Biden has created the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument in Illinois and Mississippi last month, the Castner Range National Monument in Texas and Avi Kwa Ame National Monument in Nevada this spring, and the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument in Colorado last year.
The Biden administration on Tuesday also announced $44 million in federal funds that will be used to strengthen climate resilience in the National Parks system. The funds will go toward 43 projects across 39 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.