Washington, D.C. – Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the Department of the Interior has chosen the withdrawal of one million acres of land around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims for up to twenty years as the agency’s preferred course of action and that it would continue to protect these areas under an emergency withdrawal until the release of a final decision, expected at the end of the year. Environment America’s Anna Aurilio issued the following statement:
“From its jagged cliffs to the winding Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is one of our most treasured American landmarks, and needs to be protected from toxic mining. We congratulate Secretary Salazar for listening to the concerns of hundreds of thousands of Americans and taking another important step towards protecting the Grand Canyon for generations to come. Unfortunately, we know that the uranium mining industry will continue its ill-advised push to claim more mining sites within five miles of the Grand Canyon and we stand with the Obama administration in opposing these efforts.
The Canyon and the surrounding areas are home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life, including 25 threatened and endangered species. The visible strata in the canyon walls also provide one of the most complete records of geological history in the world. More than 4 million people visit Grand Canyon National Park every year, making it the second most visited park in the country.
Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon is threatened by toxic uranium mining just outside the canyon’s borders. While Grand Canyon National Park is off limits to mining, currently the national forests and other lands surrounding the park are not.
Both the canyon and surrounding areas suffer from a history of mining for uranium and other metals, which has left a toxic legacy of pollution. Four streams in Grand Canyon National Park are undrinkable as a result of radioactive uranium contamination near previous mining activity in and around the park.
Additional uranium mining threatens to disrupt the stunning landscape, pollute the rivers and streams that feed the Colorado River with radioactive waste, endanger fragile desert ecosystems, and contaminate the drinking water for more than 25 million Americans. In addition to pollution from the mineral extraction itself, road-building and other exploration infrastructure would significantly disrupt the park’s delicate hydrologic balance and destroy important fish and wildlife habitat.
It is clear that Americans and visitors from around the world understand the value of this beautiful landscape and don’t want to see it destroyed. Secretary Salazar has taken an important step towards ensuring that the Grand Canyon will be just as spectacular for generations to come.”