The Cleanest Line, February 16, 2012
Grand Canyon Wins New Protections From Uranium Mining
By Taylor McKinnon
The Obama administration rang in the New Year with a gift to wildlands and wildlife: a 20-year ban on new mining on 1 million acres of public lands around Grand Canyon National Park. The move, in the face of a rash of new uranium-mining claims, bans new claims and prohibits exploratory drilling and mining on existing claims lacking “valid existing rights” — the vast majority of claims in the area. It’s a historic decision for an iconic landscape that will save streams and rivers from pollution and protect scores of species from the scourge of industrial mining waste.
The decision is clearly popular. Nearly 400,000 people from 90 countries wrote the Interior Department urging the ban. And since it was enacted, it’s won praise from Indian tribes, businesses, elected officials, scientists and outdoor enthusiasts who value the canyon’s environmental health and its economic value as a tourist attraction.
Given the uranium industry’s track record, the ban is critical. The Navajo Nation — just east of Grand Canyon — is riddled with pollution from abandoned mines. At Grand Canyon’s south rim, the Orphan Mine still leaches uranium into Horn Creek at 10 times federal limits. North of the canyon, in 2010, federal scientists chronicled elevated uranium at every previously mined site they visited.
The new protections span the Kanab Creek watershed north of Grand Canyon, portions of the Kaibab National Forest along the canyon’s south rim, and House Rock Valley just north and east of the park.
But, by virtue of property rights given to mining corporations under the 1872 mining law, some old mines will be grandfathered in. The Bureau of Land Management has already let one of four mines shuttered in the 1990s reopen without updating 24-year-old environmental reviews — a decision now contested in court by tribes and conservation groups.
Taylor McKinnon is the public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
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This article originally appeared here.
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