Uranium Mining Claims Near Grand Canyon Could Surge if Supreme Court Reverses Ban
- Colorado River Drinking Water Source for 40 Million
- 2018: 831 Active Uranium Mining Claims Near Grand Canyon
- 2011: Before Ban, 3,500 Claims
WASHINGTON – If the Supreme Court lifts the moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, the expected surge in active claims would endanger not only a cherished national landmark, but also the drinking water for 40 million Americans, according to the Environmental Working Group and Earthworks.
Between the current leanings of the Supreme Court and the Trump administration being in power, the mining industry clearly sees an opportunity to open up uranium extraction along the canyon rim for the first time in a decade. There are currently fewer than 900 active uranium claims near the canyon, compared to almost 3,500 before the ban.
In November the Trump administration announced plans to reconsider the ban on uranium mining as part of its agenda to prop up dirty and dangerous domestic energy sources.
Last week two mining industry lobbying groups petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the 20-year moratorium for uranium mining on more than 1 million acres of land along the canyon rim, put in place in 2012 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. The mining groups are seeking reversal of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ December ruling to leave the ban in place.
“If the Supreme Court decides in favor of the uranium industry, it could permanently scar a sacred landscape that is the jewel in the crown of America’s natural heritage, and threaten the drinking water of 40 million Americans from Los Angeles to Las Vegas,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “President Trump has shown total disregard for preserving natural resources and protecting public health, and if the court overturns the ban, the Grand Canyon could soon fall victim to his radical agenda.”
“The 1872 Mining Law effectively leaves public lands managers no choice but to permit proposed mines on sensitive lands like those near the Grand Canyon, unless they are specifically protected,” said Earthworks spokesperson Alan Septoff. “If the Supreme Court removes this protection, it will leave the Grand Canyon at the mercy of a mining industry, which has already polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds and left taxpayers with a $50 billion abandoned-mine cleanup bill.”
In 2011, EWG and Earthworks analyzed federal data from the Bureau of Land Management and found roughly 3,450 active uranium mining claims within the 1 million-acre area of the Canyon. The Obama administration temporarily protected this land under its freeze on new claims. Former President Obama placed the moratorium on future uranium mining claims near the north and south rims of the Canyon in order to better assess the risks mining presented to the environment, including drinking water sources.
As a result, the number of active claims plummeted in the years after the ban took effect. Today, the Grand Canyon Trust estimates there are 831 active uranium claims in the Canyon’s withdrawal area. According to the trust, 93 percent of the claims are held by three Canadian companies and one British firm. That number could once again surge into the thousands if the Supreme Court vacates the moratorium.
Metal mining, including for uranium, has long threatened the drinking water sources in the western United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are more than 500 abandoned uranium mines in Arizona and other parts of the desert west awaiting cleanup.
The Colorado River, which winds through the Grand Canyon, is the drinking water source for up to 40 million Americans, including residents of Greater Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas. The river also is the primary source of drinking water for the Havasupai tribe.
Alan Septoff, Earthworks
(202) 887-1872 x 105