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Grand Canyon, Colorado River Protected from New Uranium Mining

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, January 9, 2012

Washington, D.C. – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s decision to bar new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon marks a decisive victory for efforts to protect the iconic national park and the Colorado River, the source of drinking water for 26 million Americans.

“Secretary Salazar has defended the Southwest’s right to plentiful, clean water and America’s dedication to one of our most precious landscapes,” said Environmental Working Group senior counsel Dusty Horwitt. “With 3,500 mining claims already staked in the million-acre area, there’s no need to allow further exploitation of this iconic landmark.”

Under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, federal land managers have little authority to determine where individual mining claims can be staked, provided the area is open to mining. Claims staked in the million-acre area prior to Salazar’s ruling can remain valid. However, prospective miners will now face tougher requirements to prove the validity of their claims before they can break ground.

A draft environmental impact statement issued in February 2011 by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management downplayed the environmental risks from increased mining operations. EWG and Earthworks found that the agency had relied on the analysis of a mining industry consultant who stood to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars if the moratorium on new uranium claims were lifted.

After review of the BLM draft environmental impact statement, the Lower Colorado River Water Partnership, which represents water utilities in Arizona, Nevada and California, warned in a letter to BLM that mining could permanently damage and possibly deplete the drought-prone region’s water supplies.

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