One Year Later: Uranium Threat to Grand Canyon Still Dire Despite Emergency Action by Congress

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Stacey Hamburg, Sierra Club, (928) 774-6514
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488

One Year Later: Uranium Threat to Grand Canyon Still Dire Despite Emergency Action by Congress

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - A resolution to temporarily protect Grand Canyon National Park by
withdrawing 1 million acres from uranium exploration, passed by
Congress one year ago, has been ignored by the Bureau of Land
Management, leading to an increased risk of contaminating drinking
water consumed by millions of people.

Rep. Raúl
Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Subcommittee on National
Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, today announced that the House
Committee on Natural Resources passed the emergency resolution because
spikes in the price of uranium had led to thousands of new uranium
mining claims, dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and movement to
open several uranium mines on public lands immediately north and south
of Grand Canyon National Park.

But despite the
resolution, the Bureau of Land Management under the Bush and Obama
administrations has continued to authorize new uranium-mining
exploration, which drove the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and the
Center for Biological Diversity to file a lawsuit against the secretary
of the interior in September 2008. The lawsuit challenges the continued
authorization of uranium exploration near Grand Canyon National Park in
defiance of Congress’s emergency resolution. The Federal Land Policy
and Management Act also gives Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar the
authority to temporarily protect the same lands from exploration and
claims; however, he has failed to act.

“The Grand
Canyon is one of the world's greatest natural wonders and a crown jewel
of our national park system,” said Stacey Hamburg of the Sierra Club.
“Radioactive pollution from uranium mining is a threat to Grand Canyon
National Park visitors and wildlife, nearby Native American
communities, and southwestern cities that get their water from the
Colorado River. We need immediate action to protect these important
resources from proposed mining activities.”

Concerns
about surface and groundwater contamination of Grand Canyon National
Park and the Colorado River have been expressed by former Arizona
Governor Janet Napolitano, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Arizona Game and
Fish Department, the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, and Kaibab
Paiute tribes, Coconino County officials, and independent geologists.

“The
federal government’s inaction risks the industrialization of public
lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park and the permanent,
irretrievable contamination of precious western water upon which people
and wildlife depend,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological
Diversity. “That inaction occurs on behalf of foreign mining
corporations over the objections of local and regional communities.”

State
permitting has begun to open three existing mines in the area withdrawn
by the resolution. All three mines are owned by Denison Mines, a
Canadian firm, and are not subject to the congressional resolution. On
June 15, Denison Mines announced that it had entered into an agreement
to deliver 20 percent of its annual uranium production to KEPCO, a
Korean firm. KEPCO has also appointed Joo-Ok Chang, vice president of
KEPCO, to become a director of Denison. Federal environmental approvals
for all three mines were completed in the 1980s; despite the fact that
they are more than 20 years old, the Bureau of Land Management has
indicated that it does not intend to conduct any new environmental
studies or seek new public comments.

The Canyon
Mine near Red Butte is a sacred area for the Havasupai tribe and
immediately south of the main entrance to the Grand Canyon National
Park. Both the Havasupai and conservationists opposed the mine during
the original permitting process, completed in 1986, because it lies in
the upper watershed of Havasu Creek, which runs through the Havasupai
village, provides drinking water for the tribe, and is a scenic and
popular destination for visitors from around the world.

Congressional
emergency withdrawals for other public lands have been enacted four
times prior to this, most recently in 1981 and 1983 by the late Arizona
Congressman Mo Udall and the House Interior and Insular Affairs
Committee to halt destructive mineral and energy-leasing programs
pursued by Interior Secretary James Watt.

In January 2009, Representative Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., reintroduced H.R.644, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009,
legislation that bans exploration and the establishment of new mining
claims on approximately 1 million acres of public lands (national
forests and Bureau of Land Management lands) bordering Grand Canyon
National Park.

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April 23, 2007 Bureau of Land Management uranium exploration authorizations
April 27, 2009 Bureau of Land Management uranium exploration authorizations
Map of newly authorized uranium exploration in violation of emergency withdrawal
Map of all uranium exploration authorized since and in violation of emergency withdrawal
Conservationists’ lawsuit against Kempthorne
Map of previous uranium exploration authorized in violation of emergency withdrawal
Map of uranium claims, seeps, and springs in withdrawal area
Letter by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano
Letter by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
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 15 from Department of Interior
Letter dated July 16 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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