For Immediate Release, 25 June 2009
One Year Later: Grand Canyon’s Uranium Threat Unchanged Following Congressional Emergency Action
Grand Canyon, ARIZ – An emergency resolution to protect Grand Canyon National Park by temporarily withdrawing one million acres from uranium exploration continues to be ignored by the Bureau of Land Management one year later. This inaction has led to an increased risk of contaminating the drinking water of millions of people.
On June 25, 2008, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, announced that the House Committee on Natural Resources passed the emergency resolution because spikes in the price of uranium had led to thousands of new uranium mining claims, dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and movement to open several uranium mines on public lands immediately north and south of Grand Canyon National Park.
Despite the resolution, the Bureau of Land Management under the Bush and Obama Administrations has continued to authorize new uranium mining exploration. To protect the Grand Canyon watershed, the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Interior in September 2008. The lawsuit challenges the continued authorization of uranium exploration near Grand Canyon National Park in defiance of the Congressional emergency resolution. In addition to recognizing the resolution, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, could also use his authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to temporarily protect the same lands from exploration and claims, however he has failed to act.
“The Grand Canyon is one of the world's greatest natural wonders and a crown jewel of our National Park System,” said Stacey Hamburg of the Sierra Club. “Radioactive pollution from uranium mining is a threat to Grand Canyon National Park visitors and wildlife, nearby Native American communities and Southwestern cities that get their water from the Colorado River. We need immediate action to protect these important resources from proposed mining activities.”
Concerns about surface and groundwater contamination of Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River have been expressed by former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai and Kaibab Paiute tribes, Coconino County officials, and independent geologists.
“The federal government’s inaction risks the permanent and irretrievable contamination of precious western water upon which people and desert species commonly depend,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “That inaction occurs on behalf of foreign mining corporations over the objections of local and regional communities.”
The three existing mines in the area withdrawn by the resolution are owned by Denison Mines, a Canadian firm and are not subject to the congressional resolution. On June 15th Denison Mines announced that that it had entered into an agreement to deliver 20 percent of its annual uranium production to KEPCO, a Korean firm. KEPCO has also appointed Joo-Ok Chang, vice president of KEPCO, to become a director of Denison. Federal environmental approvals for all three mines were completed in the 1980s and despite being more than 20 years old, the Bureau of Land Management states that it does not intend to conduct any new environmental studies or seek new public comments.
The Canyon Mine is near Red Butte, a sacred area for the Havasupai tribe and immediately south of the main entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. Both the Havasupai and conservationists opposed the mine during the original permitting process because it lies in the upper watershed of Havasu Creek, which runs through the Havasupai village, provides drinking water for the tribe, and is a scenic and popular destination for visitors from around the world.
Congressional emergency withdrawals for other public lands have been enacted four times prior to this, most recently in 1981 and 1983 by the late Arizona Congressman Mo Udall and the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee to halt destructive mineral and energy leasing programs pursued by Interior Secretary James Watt.
In January 2009, Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) re-introduced H.R.644, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, legislation that bans exploration and the establishment of new mining claims on approximately one million acres of public lands (national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands) bordering Grand Canyon National Park.
April 23, 2007 Bureau of Land Management uranium exploration authorizations
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