WASHINGTON – In an ominous move that threatens the integrity of the nation’s most iconic natural treasure, the Forest Service has approved drilling for uranium at as many as 39 sites near the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This action marks what may be the beginning of extensive uranium mining operations in close proximity to the national park. The approvals follow on the heels of a dramatic surge in mining claims all across the West. According to Bureau of Land Management records, claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park have increased from 815 last July to 1,130 this January, a jump of nearly 40 percent. Most, if not all, of these claims are for uranium. As of January 2003, there were only 10 claims within five miles of the Park. Overall the number of claims West-wide increased 80 percent between 2003 and 2007 from about 200,000 to more than 375,000. Under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law that still governs mining activity on public lands the government has virtually no power to deny applications to mine on any of these claims, regardless of the impact on national parks or any other resource. The approvals to drill for uranium near the Grand Canyon were granted to VANE Minerals, a British uranium mining corporation. Forest Service approval documents for the drilling, obtained by the non-profit Grand Canyon Trust, make clear that without reforms to U.S. mining law, or other federal action, citizens and the government are virtually powerless to stop further exploration and eventual mining for uranium just outside the Grand Canyon. According to the Forest Service:
“The 1872 Mining Law specifically authorizes the taking of valuable mineral commodities from Public Domain Lands. A ‘No Action’ alternative is not an option that can be considered.”
With skyrocketing demand not only for uranium but gold, silver and other precious metals it is a certainty there will be a surge in mining activity throughout the West. “If industry is allowed to mine uranium a stone’s throw from one of the nation’s most cherished natural treasures and federal officials say there’s nothing we can do, it’s time to update the 1872 Mining Law,” said Dusty Horwitt, Public Lands Analyst at EWG. “Without reforms to the law, the Grand Canyon, other national parks and all public lands in the West are at the mercy of global metals prices and the desires of multinational mining conglomerates.” "The Grand Canyon Trust believes that the current uranium boom poses one of the greatest threats to Grand Canyon National Park in its history,” said Dave Gowdey, Grand Canyon Program Director for the Trust. “Uranium development at the borders of the park threatens to contaminate Park waters with radioactive waste, poses public health problems for those downstream communities dependent upon Colorado River water, and disrupts the Park's unique natural areas. The Trust is committed to working with Governor Napolitano's office, Native American tribes, our Congressional delegation and local communities to protect the Grand Canyon and preserve it for future generations." In their January 15th press statement announcing their latest mining activity near the Grand Canyon, VANE Minerals reinforced concerns that the law provides little authority to prevent additional mining operations.
|“The Company is very encouraged with these approvals and believes it has established a process whereby approvals can be obtained for projects on Forest lands on a timely basis moving forward,” Vane Mineral Group – January 15th, 2008 http://www.vaneminerals.com/?page=PressSingle&itemID=253|
In November of last year, the House of Representatives passed mining reform legislation that gives the government the power to stop mines that would “impair the land or resources” of national parks or monuments. Parks protection faces an uncertain future in the Senate. On February 5th, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, which governs the county that encompasses much of the land in and around Grand Canyon National Park, unanimously passed a resolution opposing uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. The resolution also requested that the Arizona congressional delegation work with Congress to make lands near the national park off-limits to mining activity.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group’s research on this issue can be found online at: https://www.ewg.org/reports/grandcanyon