Washington, D.C.– Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today sent a letter signed by 62 other Members of Congress to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar urging him to institute a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Salazar instituted a two-year moratorium in July of 2009 on approximately 1 million acres surrounding the canyonin order to further study long-term policy options, and is expected to make a final decision in the near future.
As the letter explains, the growth of mining near the Grand Canyon presents environmental risks to the national park and the surrounding watershed and ecosystems. A draft environmental impact statement(DEIS) on various potential mining policy decisions near the canyon– on which the Department of the Interior extended public comment until today– laid out four options Salazar will choose from, including:
A) Allowing hardrock mineral exploration and mining to continue throughout the Grand Canyon area.
B) Withdrawing about 1 million acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years.
C) Withdrawing a reduced area of about 650,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years.
D) Withdrawing a further reduced area of about 300,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years.
The Grijalva letter endorses option“B,” noting that there “are at least 8,500 mining claims near the Canyon, which is up from the 100 claims on file in January of 2003. Eleven hundred of those claims are within five miles of the Canyon; the closest company to break ground, Denison Mines, is less than 2 miles from the Park boundary. That mine, known as ‘Arizona 1,’ received 38 violations from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration in 2010 alone.”
Grijalva thanked the many individuals and groups who weighed in on behalf of protecting the canyon during the comment period. “The Grand Canyon Trust, the state chapter of the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Pew Foundation and many other groups are to be commended for their leadership on this issue,” Grijalva said. “Public participation works best with an informed, active public, and I want to thank these environmental leaders for making sure the public voice was heard over these past few months.”
Grijalva said after sending the letter that the entire area should be permanently withdrawn from mining consideration. On March 1, he reintroduced the Grand Canyon Watershed Protection Act to permanently withdraw the land from mining considerations – an option not considered in the DEIS.
“If twenty years is the most we can get, then we’ll just be back here in twenty years arguing again about whether to expose one of the world’s greatest natural treasures to mining waste,” Grijalva said. “This is not a difficult or complicated decision, and I urge Secretary Salazar to consider how history will view the outcome. We need to fully protect the Grand Canyon, the crown jewel of our National Parks System, from environmental harm and maintain the vital waters of the Colorado river.No other options should be on the table.”
The current moratorium limits mining on 1 million acres of national forest and BLM managed lands in three parcels: two are north of the Grand Canyon National Park on Bureau of Land Management Arizona Strip and Kaibab National Forest lands, and one is south of the Grand Canyon in the Kaibab National Forest. If Salazar follows Grijalva’s recommendationon the DEIS, the entire area would remain protected for the next 20 years.