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'Unearthly' beauty tops jobs? Obama freezes mining near Grand Canyon.

Mining companies say the decision could cost the regional economy billions of dollars. Environmentalists disagree and say mining near the Grand Canyon would mar a natural treasure.

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Several moves afoot in Congress aim to unwind the presidential action. A measure appended to a House bill that funds the Department of Interior targets such regulations. And legislation unveiled in the House and Senate last month – backed by Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona – would nullify the move.

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The Wednesday decision does not take effect for another 30 days. Even after that, Congress has 90 days in which it could – through a joint resolution that would not need President Obama's signature – reverse the measure. With Democrats controlling the Senate, this is seen as unlikely.

Moreover, such a move would flout history and an American icon, say environmentalists.

But mining advocates say the White House move to squelch mining could raise the "jobs issue." It takes "$30 billion of American economic wealth and jobs off the table," Bob Weidner, director of government affairs for American Clean Energy Resources Trust, a pro-mining advocacy group, told the Monitor in June.

A BLM analysis suggests that the impact will be far less. Under the new plan, $1.2 billion in regional economic output over 20 years is expected versus $3.4 billion under the scenario in which mining went ahead unfettered.

President Roosevelt, who once described the canyon in personal letters as “beautiful and terrible and unearthly” was the first to use his presidential authority to withdraw the Grand Canyon from mining development – until Congress in 1919 created Grand Canyon National Park.

Now Mr. Obama has taken a major step in the same direction.

"This is a great move by the Obama administration, and we commend them for protecting the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining," says Jane Danowitz, director of the US public land program at the Pew Environment Group in Washington. "Looking down the road, this is something he will be long remembered for – preserving this place so special to the American people from harmful mining."

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