Washington, D.C. – A Department of the Interior decision on the future of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon – expected to be announced in the coming days – was based in part on analysis by a mining industry consultant who would personally profit if the current moratorium on new uranium claims is lifted. A report by Earthworks and the Environmental Working Group, available at this link or at http://static.ewg.org/pdf/conflict_at_the_canyon.pdf, explains how a February study released by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) relied heavily on a paper by the consultant and downplayed the risks of mining proposals near the Grand Canyon.
BLM in February published an overview and scientific analysis of the options for lifting the current moratorium on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres surrounding the Canyon. The analysis relied heavily on a paper by the consultant, Karen Wenrich, of Golden, Colo. Three days before release of the BLM study, an Arizona uranium mining company completed a deal – subsequently filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission – disclosing a contract to pay Wenrich $225,000 for 61 mining claims if the moratorium is lifted. The BLM report offered almost no discussion of the risk that radioactive mine waste could contaminate the Colorado River, which flows through the Canyon.
Records show Wenrich staked her claims in the million-acre area around the Canyon in 2007 and 2008. These existing claims could be more easily developed if the moratorium is lifted.
“Public land shouldn’t be given away cheaply, especially based on the analysis of anyone who stands to profit,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “If mining deals near the Grand Canyon need this much help demonstrating they’re good for the taxpayer, there’s no reason they should be approved. This conflict of interest needs to be cleared up immediately and an unbiased analysis needs to be done to protect the public interest.”
As chairman of the subcommittee in the previous Congress, Grijalva supported a twenty-year moratorium on the 1 million acres in question. He introduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act (H.R. 855) on March 1 to permanently withdraw the land from future mining claims. He continues to support the twenty-year moratorium option at the Interior Department level and wrote a May 4 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him “to ensure that the Grand Canyon is just as spectacular as it is now for generations to come.”This and Grijalva’s other public correspondence on the issue is available at http://grijalva.house.gov/oversight.