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For Immediate Release, August 26, 2009

Contacts:  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

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— 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 future.”

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.

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