Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement today in reaction to a final plan from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to bar new mining claims on nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.
“We commend the Obama administration for honoring its commitment to protect the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining around its borders. For more than a century, this national treasure has endured because a series of American presidents have had the foresight and willingness to safeguard it from mining and other development interests.
“Today's action reflects overwhelming public support—from prominent scientists, elected leaders, conservationists, tourism officials, and downstream water users—to give the Grand Canyon the lasting protection it deserves.
“The effort to shield the Grand Canyon underscores the need for lawmakers to move swiftly to modernize a mining law passed 139 years ago, which gives the mining industry essentially unfettered access to the majority of Western public lands, at taxpayer expense. We encourage the Obama administration to work with Congress now to reform the 1872 Mining Law so that other national treasures are also protected.”
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 Final Environmental Impact Statement released today would apply a 20-year moratorium under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) on roughly 1 million acres of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. The executive branch has applied FLPMA to protect other places from new claimstaking, 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The outdated law gives mining companies “free and open access” to the majority of public land in the West, and the Congressional Budget Office has shown that the law allows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 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.