As the nation celebrates the first annual National Park Week, 159 recreation and conservation groups in 24 states called on the U.S. Senate to take immediate action to protect Grand Canyon National Park from a dramatic increase in new mining claims by reforming the nation's 135-year-old mining law that governs the mining of uranium, gold and other "hardrock" metals on western public lands.
As of January 2008, 1130 claims to mine "hardrock" metals have been staked within five miles of the boundaries of the Grand Canyon, according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Land Management data by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG). In January 2003, only 10 claims were within this radius. Many of these new claims are for uranium. Nine other national parks in the West, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and Death Valley, are at new and growing risk as mining claims cluster around their boundaries, according to EWG.
Early this month, a federal court enjoined a British company, VANE Minerals, from beginning exploration for uranium just outside the Grand Canyon's rim.
Metals mining, including uranium, gold and copper, is the nation's top source of toxic pollution, and mining pollution has contaminated 40 percent of the headwaters of western rivers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Mining companies know that it is against the law in most cases to set up operations in the Grand Canyon, or any national park for that matter," says today's statement, entitled, Principles to Permanently Protect the Grand Canyon, shared with Senate offices today. "Yet, incredibly, the current mining law that has been around for 135 years does allow mining operations right next door to our national parks."
"The Grand Canyon is America's treasure, and threats from mining and the 1872 law are rising every day," said Matt Garrington of Environment Colorado, which coordinated the development of the principles. "Mining claims, fueled by rising metals prices, are skyrocketing. It's time the Senate took action."
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill to modernize the 1872 mining law, which still gives mining priority over other uses on many western public lands. The U.S. Senate, led by Jeff Bingaman, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is expected to produce its own reform proposal shortly.