Denver, CO – Last week Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar received comments from more than 98,200 citizens asking him to protect the lands around Grand Canyon National Park from mining.
The public comment period for the secretary’s proposal to withdraw land around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining ended on Saturday. The move would protect nearly one million acres from new mining claims for up to twenty years, the longest duration possible under current law.
The administration will spend two years from the date of the proposal to decide whether to implement the withdrawal, during which time no new mining claims can be placed on the land.
“The Grand Canyon symbolizes the beauty and awe of the American West,” said Matt Garrington, advocate for Environment Colorado. “Past uranium mining operations already pollute nearby waters, and now the mining industry has set its sights on 8,500 mining claims.”
Environment Colorado is part of Environment America, a nationwide network of state-based environmental groups, that is fighting to save the Grand Canyon from uranium mining.
Western Mining Action Project (WMAP), a non-profit public interest law firm based in Lyons, Colorado, represents a coalition of conservation groups that have been fighting uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and is leading a lawsuit to ensure mining operations that were abandoned over 15 years ago are not allowed to move forward near the national treasure.
“The Interior Department was entirely correct in temporarily stopping the onslaught of new mining claims near the Grand Canyon,” said Roger Flynn, WMAP’s Director and Managing Attorney. “Now the key will be in providing longer-term protection for the lands and waters of this incredibly important landscape.”
In addition to the 98,285 individual comments, 34 groups – including nine from Colorado – submitted a joint letter of support for protection of the canyon from mining. Furthermore, a coalition of groups has been working to get cosponsors on the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, a bill that would permanently protect more than one million acres of land around the Grand Canyon from mining. The bill currently has 40 cosponsors in the House, including Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder.
The landscape isn’t the only thing at stake. The Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon, provides drinking water for 25 million Americans living as far west as Los Angeles. Furthermore, the canyon and the surrounding areas are home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life, including 25 threatened and endangered animal species. The visible strata in the canyon walls also provide one of the most complete records of geological history in the world.
In addition to legislation that permanently protects lands near the Grand Canyon, efforts are underway to reform the 1872 mining law, which places mining as the highest, best use on public lands no matter the effects to water, wildlife, or outdoor recreation opportunities. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Mark Udall endorsed reform legislation, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009.
Due to the rising price of gold and uranium in past years, the number of hardrock mining claims across the West has increased exponentially. As of January 2009, there were about 8,500 mining claims in the area proposed for withdrawal near the Grand Canyon. This is up from about 100 claims in January of 2003. Most, if not all, of these claims are for uranium and 1,100 of the claims are within five miles of the canyon.
Uranium claims on public lands in Colorado jumped up 239% over just a four year period from 2003 to 2007.
- Fact sheet on potential impacts of uranium mining at the Grand Canyon
- BLM press release regarding the mineral withdrawal