The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

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

Interior Begins Analysis of New Grand Canyon Uranium Protections


The Department of the Interior today published a Federal Register
notice announcing its preparation of an environmental impact statement
evaluating a proposed 20-year "mineral withdrawal" that would prohibit
new mining claims and the exploration or mining of existing claims
without valid existing rights across nearly 1 million acres of public
lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. The purpose of the
mineral withdrawal would be to protect Grand Canyon's watersheds from
the adverse effects of new uranium exploration and mining. If approved,
the withdrawal would extend and strengthen protections set forth in the
two-year land segregation announced by the Interior Department on July
20, 2009.

"Allowing the uranium industry to mine
within Grand Canyon's watersheds would entail contamination risks that
aren't worth taking," said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns
director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "A 20-year mineral
withdrawal would go a long way toward securing the Grand Canyon's

Spikes in uranium prices have caused
thousands of new uranium claims, dozens of proposed exploration
drilling projects, and proposals to reopen old uranium mines adjacent
to Grand Canyon. Renewed uranium development threatens to degrade
wildlife habitat and industrialize now-wild and iconic landscapes
bordering the park; it also threatens to contaminate aquifers that
discharge into Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River. The
Park Service warns against drinking from several creeks in the Canyon exhibiting elevated uranium levels in the wake of past uranium mining.

"Uranium mining has already done irreparable harm to our region's
people, water, and land," said Grand Canyon Trust spokesman Roger
Clark. "We should not repeat the mistakes of the past on our public
watersheds surrounding the Grand Canyon."

Proposed uranium development has provoked a rash of litigation, public protests,
and statements of concern and opposition from scientists, city
officials, county officials, former Governor Janet Napolitano, the
Navajo, Kaibab Paiute, Hopi and Havasupai tribes, the Metropolitan
Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water
Authority. Statewide polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies
shows overwhelming public support for withdrawing from mineral entry
the lands near Grand Canyon; Arizonans support protecting the Grand
Canyon area from uranium mining by a two-to-one margin.

"This withdrawal process represents an exciting opportunity to protect
the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River, and the many seeps and springs
that feed this system," said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the
Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "By doing this, we will better
safeguard the drinking water of millions of people downstream as well."

The deadline for public comment on the first phase of the mineral
withdrawal analysis is October 19, 2009. The Bureau of Land Management
will be leading the analysis in conjunction with the U.S. Geological
Survey, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other federal and state agencies and
tribes may become cooperating agencies by request.