The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-67
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter, (602) 999-5790

Salazar Protects Grand Canyon Watersheds From New Uranium Claims and Exploration

Order Temporarily Bans New Uranium Claims and Exploration Across 1 Million Acres of Public Land Surrounding Grand Canyon National Park


Conservationists are applauding a notice issued today by the Obama
administration to temporarily place 1 million acres of public lands
surrounding Grand Canyon off limits to new mining claims and exploration or
development of existing, unpatented claims. The order complies with a 25
June 2008 resolution by the House Committee on Natural Resources enacting
the same protections across the same area. The protections do not affect
three existing mines in the area slated for reopening or the exploration of
existing patented claims.

prices have caused sharp increases in new uranium mining claims,
exploration, and permitting to reopen old mines on public lands surrounding
Grand Canyon National Park. Uranium development
threatens to damage wildlife habitat, industrialize iconic wildlands, and contaminate
surface water and groundwater feeding regional water wells, seeps, springs
and the Colorado River - prompting concerns from 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.

Salazar's decision secures a much-needed, but temporary respite from
thousands of new uranium claims around the Grand
Canyon," said Grand Canyon Trust spokesman Roger Clark.
"For permanent protection, Congress now needs to pass the Grand
Canyon Watersheds Protection Act."

order aligns the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management
direction with the 25 June 2008 resolution by the House Committee on
Natural Resources, which directed the secretary of the interior to enact an
"emergency withdrawal," banning new claims and exploration across
the 1 million acres for three years. The Center for Biological Diversity,
Grand Canyon Trust, and Sierra Clubfiled
suit against the Department of the Interior
and Bureau of Land
Management in September 2008 for authorizing uranium exploration in violation
of the withdrawal. The groups are evaluating how today's action
affects that pending litigation.

are pleased to see Secretary Salazar take this action to protect the lands
around Grand Canyon and the Colorado River,
which provides the drinking water for millions of people downstream,"
said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon
Chapter. "Our waters and special places such as Grand
Canyon deserve strong protections."

administration's order comes as Congress considers legislative mining
reforms. Tomorrow the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests And Public
Lands will hear
on H.R.644, the
Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009
introduced by Representative Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, that would permanently
ban exploration and new claims on about 1 million acres of public lands
bordering Grand Canyon. Last week the Senate Committee on Energy and
Natural Resources heard
on legislation to reform the antiquated 1872
mining law. The Environmental Protection Agency in that hearing noted that
hard-rock mining has impacted 40 percent of all western watersheds and
generates 28 percent of the toxic pollution in the United States.

"Grand Canyon's uranium problem exemplifies the
need for national mining law reform," said Taylor McKinnon, public
lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "America
deserves a mining law that holds our parks, watersheds and wildlife above -
rather than hostage to - mining industry profits."

air and water permitting has begun to open three existing mines in the area
covered by today's order but will not be limited by it. All three
mines are owned by Denison Mines, a Canadian firm with Korean ties. Federal
environmental approvals for all three mines are outdated and were completed
in the 1980s. The Havasupai tribe will host a rally
on July 25th and 26th
near Grand
Canyon's south rim in protest of one of those mines, the Canyon mine,
located on the Kaibab National Forest and traditional tribal lands.