The Obama Administration is set to protect a 1-million acre area around the Grand Canyon from uranium mining with a 20-year ban, despite pressure from mining companies.
Environmental groups praised the decision. From the Associated Press:
"Secretary Salazar has defended the Southwest's right to plentiful, clean water and America's dedication to one of our most precious landscapes," said Dusty Horwitt, senior counsel for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group.
"Despite significant pressure from the mining industry, the president and Secretary Salazar did not back down," said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group.
Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity, also praised the decision:
Grand Canyon National Park is an international icon, a biodiversity hotspot and the economic engine for much of the Southwest’s tourist industry. Today’s decision deserves celebration — protecting Grand Canyon from more toxic uranium-mining pollution is unquestionably the right thing to do.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), National Parks Subcommittee Ranking Member, applauded the decision today:
“Today, with this announcement, Secretary Salazar and President Obama have listened to the American people – who submitted over 300,000 comments in favor of protecting the Grand Canyon – and made sure that Teddy Roosevelt’s vision for the Grand Canyon remains intact,” said Grijalva.
“As elected leaders of our state we should be standing shoulder to shoulder to protect the Grand Canyon, instead of shilling for outside interests and their short-term profits,” Grijalva said. “The Grand Canyon is not a payday loan operation – it is a symbol of our nation.”
“It is not in our national security interest to jeopardize this critical ecosystem or put at risk a water supply relied on by 25 million Americans,” added Grijalva. “Cities all across the Southwest, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and my hometown of Tucson, rely on the Colorado River watershed for their water supply. What would it mean for our national security if 25 million people did not have access to clean water? Again, that is not a risk I am willing to take. I applaud this historic decision and look forward to continuing the conservation legacy that we have inherited to make sure that the Grand Canyon remains unchanged.”
Mining companies had hoped to take advantage of the uranium-rich area. The Guardian reports:
In the final years of the George Bush presidency, when uranium prices were rising worldwide, mining companies filed thousands of new claims in northern Arizona, on lands near the Grand Canyon. They also proposed reopening old mines adjacent to the canyon.
Uranium mining has proven to be an ecological nightmare. In a statement from October, green groups slammed the Republican effort to open up one million acres of public lands that form the Grand Canyon National Park’s watershed to new uranium mining.
The Grand Canyon and Four Corners region still suffers the pollution legacy of past mining. American Indian tribes in the region — Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab-Paiute, Navajo and Hopi — have banned uranium mining on their lands. Water in Horn Creek, located in Grand Canyon National Park just below the old Orphan uranium mine, exhibits dissolved uranium concentrations more than 10 times the health-based standards established by the EPA for drinking water; groundwater below old mines north of Grand Canyon has measured dissolved uranium more than 1,000 times allowable for drinking-water standards.
Today's announcement would not affect some 3,000 existing mining claims around the canyon.