Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. public lands program, issued the following statement today in reaction to a range of U.S. Interior Department proposals to withdraw areas around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims.
"The clock is ticking, and we're looking to the Obama administration to make a call that will safeguard Grand Canyon National Park long term from new mining around its borders. We urge the administration to stand by its initial recommendation and give the Grand Canyon the full protection it deserves.
"The mining industry's ability to encroach upon the Grand Canyon and other national parks underscores the need to reform the 1872 Mining Law. This act from a bygone era still allows mining to occur on a majority of western public lands at taxpayer expense and with few restrictions, and Congress and the administration should pass bipartisan legislation to replace it. Protecting the Grand Canyon and other national treasures from mining is something on which lawmakers should agree."
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 claim-staking on nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding the park. Today the administration called for comment on four alternatives that would apply a 20-year moratorium under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). The alternatives range from the original proposal of more than 1 million acres to as few as 300,000 acres protected, as well as a "no-action" alternative. The executive branch has applied FLPMA to protect other places from new claim-staking, including Yellowstone National Park and Oregon's Coos Bay. Such action has been necessary because the mining of gold, uranium and other hardrock minerals is still governed by a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.
The outdated law gives mining companies "free and open access" to the majority of public land in the West and the Congressional Budget Office has shown it allows at least $1 billion in valuable metals to be taken from public land without taxpayer compensation. The Obama administration and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have called for modernizing the law. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified the hardrock mining industry as the nation's top polluter due to the more than $2 billion in federal spending on mine cleanup over the past decade.
The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.