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For Immediate Release, June 25, 2009

Contacts: 

Stacey Hamburg, Sierra Club, (928) 774-6514
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488

 

One Year Later: Uranium Threat to Grand Canyon Still Dire Despite Emergency Action by Congress

GRAND CANYON, Ariz.— A resolution to temporarily protect Grand Canyon National Park by withdrawing 1 million acres from uranium exploration, passed by Congress one year ago, has been ignored by the Bureau of Land Management, leading to an increased risk of contaminating drinking water consumed by millions of people.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, today announced that the House Committee on Natural Resources passed the emergency resolution because spikes in the price of uranium had led to thousands of new uranium mining claims, dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and movement to open several uranium mines on public lands immediately north and south of Grand Canyon National Park.

But despite the resolution, the Bureau of Land Management under the Bush and Obama administrations has continued to authorize new uranium-mining exploration, which drove the Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Center for Biological Diversity to file a lawsuit against the secretary of the interior in September 2008. The lawsuit challenges the continued authorization of uranium exploration near Grand Canyon National Park in defiance of Congress’s emergency resolution. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act also gives Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar the authority to temporarily protect the same lands from exploration and claims; however, he has failed to act.

“The Grand Canyon is one of the world's greatest natural wonders and a crown jewel of our national park system,” said Stacey Hamburg of the Sierra Club. “Radioactive pollution from uranium mining is a threat to Grand Canyon National Park visitors and wildlife, nearby Native American communities, and southwestern cities that get their water from the Colorado River. We need immediate action to protect these important resources from proposed mining activities.”

Concerns about surface and groundwater contamination of Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River have been expressed by 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.

“The federal government’s inaction risks the industrialization of public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park and the permanent, irretrievable contamination of precious western water upon which people and wildlife depend,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “That inaction occurs on behalf of foreign mining corporations over the objections of local and regional communities.”

State permitting has begun to open three existing mines in the area withdrawn by the resolution. All three mines are owned by Denison Mines, a Canadian firm, and are not subject to the congressional resolution. On June 15, Denison Mines announced that it had entered into an agreement to deliver 20 percent of its annual uranium production to KEPCO, a Korean firm. KEPCO has also appointed Joo-Ok Chang, vice president of KEPCO, to become a director of Denison. Federal environmental approvals for all three mines were completed in the 1980s; despite the fact that they are more than 20 years old, the Bureau of Land Management has indicated that it does not intend to conduct any new environmental studies or seek new public comments.

The Canyon Mine near Red Butte is a sacred area for the Havasupai tribe and immediately south of the main entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park. Both the Havasupai and conservationists opposed the mine during the original permitting process, completed in 1986, because it lies in the upper watershed of Havasu Creek, which runs through the Havasupai village, provides drinking water for the tribe, and is a scenic and popular destination for visitors from around the world.

Congressional emergency withdrawals for other public lands have been enacted four times prior to this, most recently in 1981 and 1983 by the late Arizona Congressman Mo Udall and the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee to halt destructive mineral and energy-leasing programs pursued by Interior Secretary James Watt.

In January 2009, Representative Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., reintroduced H.R.644, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2009, legislation that bans exploration and the establishment of new mining claims on approximately 1 million acres of public lands (national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands) bordering Grand Canyon National Park.

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April 23, 2007 Bureau of Land Management uranium exploration authorizations
April 27, 2009 Bureau of Land Management uranium exploration authorizations
Map of newly authorized uranium exploration in violation of emergency withdrawal
Map of all uranium exploration authorized since and in violation of emergency withdrawal
Conservationists’ lawsuit against Kempthorne
Map of previous uranium exploration authorized in violation of emergency withdrawal
Map of uranium claims, seeps, and springs in withdrawal area
Letter by former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano
Letter by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Coconino County Grand Canyon uranium resolution
Testimony of Dr. Larry Stevens
Testimony of Dr. Abe Springer
Testimony of Robert Arnberger, former Grand Canyon National Park superintendent
Testimony of Roger Clark
Testimony of Chris Shuey
Supplement to Chris Shuey Testimony
Letter dated July 15 from Department of Interior
Letter dated July 16 by Congressman Rahall 


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