Jane Danowitz, director of the U.S. public lands program for the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement in response to a bill introduced in the U.S. House and Senate, the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011, that would block the Obama administration's ability to move forward with a plan to protect Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining claims.
“It is unfortunate that some in Congress are attempting to prevent the Obama administration from taking action to protect the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining.
“Although proponents of expanded Grand Canyon mining cite American energy independence, a significant percentage of these mining claims and pending operations are controlled by foreign interests, which pay no royalties for the mineral wealth they extract from U.S. public lands. Furthermore, the possible contamination from uranium, which could affect the Grand Canyon and 26 million downstream water users, is a risk many stakeholders have warned against.
“Last month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar responded to broad support from the public, scientific community, tourism industry, and downstream water users by announcing a 20-year plan to protect the Grand Canyon from growing uranium mining pressures. This legislation makes it all the more critical that the Obama administration move swiftly to fulfill its commitment to give this American treasure the lasting protection it deserves.”
In response to a rash of new mining claims near Grand Canyon National Park, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a temporary halt in 2009 to new claimstaking on nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding the park. The executive branch has applied the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to protect other places from new claimstaking, including Yellowstone National Park and Oregon's Coos Bay. Officials from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority have pressed to limit new uranium mining along the Grand Canyon's Colorado River watershed, which provides drinking water for 25 million people. The outdoor recreation industry has weighed in as well, as visitation to the Grand Canyon generates $687 million annually in revenue and contributes to the creation of more than 12,000 full-time jobs, according to a 2005 Northern Arizona University study (PDF).
The Interior Department's action was necessary because the mining of gold, uranium, and other hardrock minerals is still governed by a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant 139 years ago in 1872. The outdated law gives mining companies “free and open access” to the majority of U.S. public land without taxpayer compensation. The Obama administration and members of Congress from both parties have called for modernizing the law. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified the hardrock mining industry as the nation's top polluter: the United States has spent more than $2 billion in federal spending on mine cleanup over the past decade.
Today's legislation was introduced by U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), and U.S. Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.).
Photo Gallery: What's at Risk