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June 25th, 2008
Grand Canyon Protected

House Natural Resources Committee Passes Resolution to Withdraw Public Lands from Uranium Mining

Today, the Natural Resources Committee adopted a resolution to require the Secretary of Interior to withdraw public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining activities. The resolution was introduced by Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

The resolution now requires action from the Secretary.

“We have a responsibility to defend the Grand Canyon,” stated Rep Grijalva. “Given the importance of the resolution, the Republican leadership decision to leave the committee instead of upholding their duty to side with one of the country’s greatest treasures was petulant and childish.”

Below is Representative Grijalva’s prepared statement:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In considering the emergency withdrawal resolution before us, we face two dangers. The first is making more of this Resolution than it deserves; the second is making less of the Grand Canyon, and its people, than they deserve.

“Regarding the resolution before us, we should not overstate its significance. The vast majority of the federal land in and around Grand Canyon National Park is already withdrawn from mining – this resolution simply covers the last remaining acreage open to new claims.

“The resolution is subject to valid, existing rights, so it will have no impact on valid, existing claims. The resolution is limited to withdrawal from location and entry – it will not impact patents under the mining law nor oil and gas activities.

“The authority to compel such a withdrawal has been on the books for more than 30 years, during which time the Committee has exercised the authority four times; even former Secretary Gale Norton exercised it at least once. The regulations implementing this authority can be found at 43 C.F.R. 2310.5 and have remained unchanged for years.

“Adoption of this resolution today is consistent with court cases interpreting this authority – including the Supreme Court ruling in Chadha.

“And while I support permanent withdrawal, this resolution is not permanent. It gives the Secretary up to three years to comply with the assessment and reporting requirements contained in FLPMA, but the Secretary retains authority to determine the actual length of the withdrawal.

“This proposed withdrawal has been the subject of two hearings this year, Mr. Chairman – the first out in Flagstaff and the second here in Washington. Thus, the resolution is based on testimony from 16 witnesses representing industry, government, scientists, Tribes and other local residents.

“Mr. Chairman, I suspect this resolution will be characterized in extreme terms — an abuse of power, hastily drawn, or a land grab. As I have just demonstrated, such characterizations are not factual, but they are to be expected.

“Arguments intended to diminish the Grand Canyon, or to gloss over the ugly history of uranium mining in the Southwest, are another matter, Mr. Chairman. The uniqueness and fragility of the Grand Canyon ecosystem – combined with the legacy of pollution, illness and death left by previous uranium mining – combine to make this the last place on Earth new mining should take place. Efforts to belittle those impacts must not be tolerated.

“The Grand Canyon is a World Heritage Site; one of the great, natural wonders of the world and one of the crown jewels of our National Park System. The Colorado River, and the tributaries, streams and springs in the area, comprise the watershed for much the Western United States, including Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Diego and Los Angeles.

“This ecosystem provides recreational opportunities for millions of visitors from around the world and is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, several of which are threatened or endangered. Uranium mining threatens all of these resources, Mr. Chairman.

“One of the scientific witnesses at our field hearing testified that, “mining disturbs the land and landscape in irreversible ways, even when controls are in place. Reclamation of mines only mitigates their long-term effects; it does not eliminate them, or return the land to its original conditions. Water quality, wildlife, native plants and the ecosystem at large are permanently altered by mining.”

“And that is if there are no accidents, Mr. Chairman, which has not been the case in the Southwest. To pick one of the worst examples, the Church Rock tailings spill in New Mexico resulted in the release of 94 million gallons of radioactive sludge into the Puerco River. This remains the largest industrial release of radioactive wastes in the history of the United States.

“In addition to plants and animals, this area is home to people, as well, Mr. Chairman. Only the Canyon itself has been there longer than the Navajo, Kaibab-Paiute, Havasupai, Hualapai, and Hopi. And their suffering is as well documented as it is awful.

“Contaminated soil and water from uranium mining and processing led to deadly cancer clusters, birth defects, and unusually high rates of chronic illness, persisting even today. The Chairman of the Resources Committee of the Navajo Nation Council testified that, “we are still undergoing what appears to be a never-ending federal experiment to see how much devastation can be endured by a people and a society from exposure to radiation in the air, in the water, in mines, and on the surface of the land.”

“And yet, despite the resources that might be destroyed, and the lives that already have been destroyed, a mad rush to mine uranium, fueled by skyrocketing prices, is underway. Dollar signs are blinding the industry to the devastation it has already caused and motivating unsupportable claims that this time, everything will be different.

“Sadly, things are not different. The woefully inadequate mining law which allowed this disaster to occur remains on the books, unchanged in a century and a quarter. And the Bush Administration argues that exploratory drilling for uranium should even be exempt from more recent laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act.

“It is simply naive to claim that a ten-fold spike in price, combined with a lack of federal action to stop it, does not constitute an emergency regarding uranium mining at Grand Canyon. The pressure to resume mining is building and will overwhelm efforts to protect the environment or the people of the region. Five years ago, there were 10 uranium claims within five miles of the Park; in January of this year there were more than 1,100.

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