Grand Canyon National Park - Arizona
The 1872 Mining Law, A Civil War Era Statute
Nearly five million people will visit the Grand Canyon this year, heeding the advice of President Theodore Roosevelt to enjoy one of "the great sights, which every American...should see." But while the Canyone itself may be timeless, its surroundings are not. There's a race afoot—within miles of the canyon's majestic rim—to snatch up mining rights on public lands to extract uranium, gold and other hardrock metals.
At the turn of the century, a steep rise in uranium prices prompted a rash of "claimstaking" just outside the park. According to an analysis of government data by the Environmental Working Group, the number of mining claims within five miles of the park increased from 10 in 2003 to more than 1,100 in 2008.
In approving an application to drill by British mining company Vane Minerals, federal officials argued that a "no action" alternative was not an option. Under a common interpretation of the 1872 Mining Law, federal land managers may require "mitigation" of impacts but cannot deny a mining permit—even when an icon like the Grand Canyon is at risk.
- Letter from Joshua Reichert, Managing Director, Pew Environment Group, to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, May 20, 2009.
- Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, "150 Groups to U.S. Senate: Reform 1872 Law to Protect Grand Canyon," press release, April 24, 2008.