Legislation Introduced to Protect Grand Canyon From Uranium Threat and Override Bush Midnight Regulation

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790

Legislation Introduced to Protect Grand Canyon From Uranium Threat and Override Bush Midnight Regulation

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) today reintroduced the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, legislation originally introduced in 2008 prohibiting new uranium claims, exploration, and resulting mining across 1 million acres of public-lands watersheds surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. The public lands protected by the bill — the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the Canyon, the Kanab Creek watershed north of the Park, and House Rock Valley, between Grand Canyon National Park and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument — are the last remaining public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park not protected from new uranium development.

Recent years have seen thousands new uranium claims, dozens of exploration drilling projects, and movement to open several uranium mines on public lands immediately north and south of Grand Canyon. Concerns about resulting radiological and heavy-metal contamination of surface and groundwater discharging into Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River have been expressed by former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, the L.A. Water District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, and Kaibab Piute Nations, and Coconino County.

“Uranium mining poses one of the greatest risks to Grand Canyon National Park in decades,” said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust. “It threatens to contaminate park waters with radioactive waste, poses public-health problems for local residents and downstream communities dependent upon the Colorado River, and endangers the park's unique ecosystems.”

Today’s legislation follows former Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne’s defiance of a June 25, 2008, House Committee on Natural Resources resolution directing him to withdraw the same 1 million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park from mineral entry. Kempthorne flouted the Committee and federal law by continuing to authorize uranium exploration in the emergency withdrawal area after the resolution’s passage. The secretary’s refusal to comply with the law forced the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and Sierra Club to file suit in federal court to compel him to withdraw these lands and stop allowing mining to continue.

“With the leadership of Congressman Grijalva and a new administration, we are optimistic that the Grand Canyon area and all who rely on the Colorado River for their drinking water, downstream from these proposed uranium mines, will finally get the much needed protections they deserve,” said Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.

If passed, the legislation would override the applicability of the Bush administration’s subsequent December midnight regulation to Grand Canyon — a rule change in response to conservation groups’ litigation that eliminated Congress’ authority to enact emergency withdrawals under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The rule change was promulgated with only a 15-day public comment period. Regulations implementing the Act continue to afford the executive branch and the secretary of the interior the authority to enact temporary administrative mineral withdrawals separately from Congress.

“We’re looking to Congress for permanent protections for Grand Canyon,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “And we’re looking to the Obama administration to enact interim safeguards and repair Bush’s regulatory gerrymandering.”

“Foresighted legislation and rulemaking now will protect Grand Canyon from shortsighted administrations of the future,” he concluded. “Now is the time to act.”

Downloads are available here:

Conservationist’s lawsuit against Kempthorne
Map of Uranium Exploration Authorized in Violation of Emergency Withdrawal

Map of Uranium Claims, Seeps and Springs in Withdrawal Area
Letter by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano
Letter by Los Angeles Water District
Coconino County Grand Canyon Uranium Resolution
Testimony of Dr. Larry Stevens

Testimony of Dr. Abe Springer
Testimony of Robert Arnberger, former Grand Canyon National Park superintendent
Testimony of Roger Clark
Testimony of Chris Shuey
Supplement to Chris Shuey Testimony

Letter dated July 15th from Department of the Interior
Letter dated July 16th by Congressman Rahall

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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