Conservation groups are applauding the Obama administration’s final decision this week, protecting 1 million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining. Today’s Interior Department “record of decision” establishes a 20-year ban on new uranium mining and mining of current claims without valid permits across 1 million acres (more than 1,500 square miles). The ban will protect Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks, as well as imperiled species like the humpback chub, from uranium-mining pollution.
“This landmark decision closes the door on rampant industrialization of Grand Canyon’s watersheds,” said Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust. “Uranium mining imposes well documented and unacceptable risks to the people and natural resources of our region.”
On July 21, 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a two-year order banning new mining claims across 1 million acres of public lands around the world-famous national park — a ban made final and long-term today.
“Grand Canyon National Park is an international icon, a biodiversity hotspot and the economic engine for much of the Southwest’s tourist industry,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today’s decision deserves celebration — protecting Grand Canyon from more toxic uranium-mining pollution is unquestionably the right thing to do.”
Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon and surrounding area. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation and proposed legislation. Because dozens of new mines threatened to industrialize iconic and regionally sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers, scientists, tribal and local governments and businesses have all voiced support for today’s protections.
“This is a great day for Grand Canyon National Park and all those who care about the park and the surround public lands, including the hundreds of thousands of individuals, hundreds of businesses and organizations, local governments and Native American tribes who have supported this proposal. We are pleased the Obama administration has taken this important action to protect the Grand Canyon’s watershed and would like to also thank Representative Grijalva for his leadership on working to protect these lands,” said Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter director.
Protecting these lands from radioactive contamination is a major step in achieving a Grand Canyon conservation vision through efforts dating back over 100 years, including presidents Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt,” said Kim Crumbo of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council. “The Obama administration deserves applause for this major achievement to guard our greatest national park.”
“The Grand Canyon is one of the wonders of the world. Standing by while it’s enveloped by a tidal wave of uranium exploration and mining would be the wrong move,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice. “We applaud Secretary Salazar’s action, and stand ready to defend the mining withdrawal from any ill-considered attack by the uranium industry.”
Statement by Governor Brewer
Federal Government Deals Blow to Northern Arizona Economy
“I am disappointed by the U.S Department of Interior’s decision today to ban uranium mining on more than 1 million acres of federal land near the Grand Canyon. This is yet another instance of the federal government engaging in excessive and unnecessary regulation, which is impeding the creation of jobs and economic growth.
“The 20-year ban comes at the expense of hundreds of high-paying jobs and approximately $10 billion worth of activity for the Arizona economy. Our state has years of experience with uranium mining in northern Arizona. Further, both the Arizona Geological Survey and Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have submitted findings that uranium mining – conducted lawfully and with proper oversight – represents a minimal environmental risk to the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.
“The Grand Canyon is a timeless treasure and Arizona’s most recognizable landmark. Nobody wants to see it harmed. But I believe that environmental protection and economic growth are not mutually exclusive. We could and should have both.”
Arizona Business Leaders Praise Economic Decision to Protect Grand Canyon
The Coconino County Sustainable Economic Development Initiative today praised a decision by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to withdraw one million acres around the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims for twenty years. “Small businesses power the economy of Arizona and the nation,” said Ron Hubert, President and Board Chairman of the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative. “Protecting the Grand Canyon keeps this engine running and keeps thousands of people employed. Why would anyone want to put those jobs at risk?”
In September, the Arizona Tourism Alliance, Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, Arizona Association of Bed & Breakfast Inns, and more than 50 business organizations and leaders from across the state on a letter to the Secretary in support of the new mining moratorium. See:
More than 200 individual Arizona small business owners have also sent postcards to Secretary Salazar in support of the moratorium.
At a December 2011 meeting of the Western Governors Association, the media reported that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer wisely said: “We forget sometimes what it [the outdoors] means to our quality of life and our economy and experiences.”
According to the State of Arizona, tourism to the Grand Canyon supports 12,000 jobs and $680 million in annual economic benefits (see last bullet on last page):
Sportsmen Praise Decision to Protect Grand Canyon, Wildlife Habitat from New Mining
Arizona sportsmen today praised Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s Record of Decision to protect one million acres of public lands and wildlife habitat surrounding the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining.
“Visitation to the Grand Canyon area generates almost $680 million each year and provides thousands of employment opportunities. Spending by Arizona hunters and anglers directly supports 21,000 jobs and generates $124-million in state and local taxes. This especially benefits rural communities like those surrounding the Grand Canyon. The potential benefits to Arizona from uranium mining in this area could never come close to those numbers. Why put any of this at risk when it not necessary nor widely supported?” asked Tom Mackin, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation and long-time resident of northern Arizona.
In July, nine local and national sportsmen’s organizations sent a letter to the Interior Secretary voicing their support for the moratorium. The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited, Arizona Antelope Foundation, Arizona Deer Association, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Yuma Valley Rod and Gun Club, Arizona Elk Society, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Anglers United Inc., and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership signed the letter.
“People that hunt, fish and drink the water here are concerned about the risks of mining here,” said Arizona Wildlife Federation board member Ben Alteneder. “Uranium has a toxic legacy. Why wouldn’t we want Secretary Salazar take precautions to protect our families and local wildlife?”
Citing concerns for wildlife habitat, the bipartisan Arizona Game and Fish Commission also endorsed the Interior proposal to withdraw one million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining for the next 20 years.
“The rush to provide economic development will be short-lived compared to the hundreds of years, or for eternity, when watersheds are polluted for everyone and no remediation is possible,” said Jim Walker of the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited. “Not only will the water pollution impact wildlife, it will have a negative effect on the economic stability of the region and any future economic development will be non-existent. Businesses and tourism are not attracted to areas with poor water quality.”
According to the most recent U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service survey (2006), 1.5 million people participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife-watching in Arizona each year, contributing $2.1 billion to the state economy.
“It isn’t just good economic sense to protect the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, it is common sense. This is our shared heritage,” said Steve Clark, president of the Arizona Elk Society. “Some things are simply priceless, including preserving the hunting and fishing traditions that Americans have enjoyed here for generations.”