WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today Interior Secretary Ken Salazar protected the Grand Canyon from toxic mining. After more than 2 years of environmental analysis and receiving nearly 300,000 public comments from the American people, environmental and conservation groups, the outdoor recreation industry, mayors and tribal leaders, Secretary Salazar withdrew more than 1 million acres of land around the canyon from new mining claims for the next twenty years.
“We are overjoyed at the Secretary’s decision to protect our national treasure from toxic mining. The Grand Canyon is a beloved American landmark—from its jagged red cliffs to the Colorado River that winds through it, the Grand Canyon is just as inspirational today as it was when Teddy Roosevelt declared it a national monument more than a century ago,” remarked Nancy Pyne, Preservation Advocate with Environment America. “This is a victory years in the making, and we thank the administration for standing with the American people and defending the canyon.”
In the months immediately leading up to this landmark decision, Environment America worked with conservation advocates and outdoors enthusiasts around the country to urge the Obama administration to halt toxic uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Interior Secretary Salazar received comments from nearly 300,000 citizens urging him to withdraw one million acres of land around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims for twenty years – the longest period possible under the law.
Arizona Congressmen Raúl Grijalva and Ed Pastor have been tremendous advocates for the canyon, even as several Arizona representatives introduced legislation to block the Department of Interior from issuing a mineral withdrawal. The Northern Arizona Continuity Act (H.R. 3155) was co-sponsored by Congressmen Jeff Flake and Trent Franks in the House and Senators Jon Kyle and John McCain in the Senate this fall; this bill would overturn the Secretary’s decision if signed into law within 90 legislative calendar days of today’s decision.
“This decision to protect the crown jewel of our national park system could not have come at a better time,” said Congressman Grijalva. “The Republican majority, including much of the Arizona delegation, is determined to let narrow special interests control our public lands and muddy the conservation legacy of Teddy Roosevelt. I am encouraged that President Obama and Secretary Salazar took the initiative to protect Arizona’s most treasured landscape, and I know that the American people stand with the decision as well.”
“Secretary Salazar understands that Americans value this beautiful landscape and don’t want to see it destroyed,” added Bret Fanshaw of Environment Arizona, state affiliate of Environment America. “The Grand Canyon draws between 4 and 5 million people to Arizona every year, yet some of Arizona’s own Congressmen seem bent on doing the bidding of industry lobbyists.”
The landscape isn’t the only thing at stake. Uranium mining in western states- the same states represented by cosponsors of H.R. 3155- has an abysmal track-record. In Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, uranium mining has had undeniable health impacts on miners and nearby residents, including cancer, anemia and birth defects. Even the Grand Canyon itself bears the scars of uranium mining. Radioactive waste has poisoned streams and soil in and around the canyon, while abandoned and active mines are scars on the Arizona landscape. Soil levels around the abandoned Orphan Mine inside Grand Canyon National Park are 450 times more than normal levels, and visitors to the park are warned not to drink from Horn Creek. The closest mine currently in operation, Arizona 1, is less than 2 miles from the canyon’s rim. (For more information on the track record of Uranium mining across the West see Environment America’s report Grand Canyon at Risk: Uranium Mining Doesn’t Belong Near Our National Treasures.)
“Mining so close to the Grand Canyon could contaminate the Colorado River, which runs through the canyon, and put the drinking water for 25 million Americans at risk,” added Pyne. “Uranium mining has already left a toxic legacy across the West—every uranium mine ever opened has required some degree of toxic waste clean-up—it certainly doesn’t belong near the Grand Canyon.”
“We are excited that Environment America has achieved this landmark victory for the Grand Canyon,” said MacKenzie Clark, Field Associate with Environment Massachusetts, a Massachusetts based affiliate of Environment America. “We urge Congress not to stand in the way of protecting our other treasured places.”