For Immediate Release, December 16, 2015
Arizona Urged to Deny Pollution Permits for Toxic Uranium Mines Next to Grand Canyon
PHOENIX— Conservation groups today called on the state of Arizona to deny air-pollution permits for three uranium mines on the doorstep of Grand Canyon National Park.
In comments sent to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, three conservation groups also asked for stricter environmental regulation of uranium mining, citing concerns over the potential spread of radioactive dust pollution in the city of Flagstaff and tribal communities in northern Arizona. The comments were submitted during the public comment period for the agency’s plan to renew air-pollution permits for three mines without necessary environmental review, monitoring or mitigation requirements for potentially radioactive pollution.
The department issued a notice of the plan to renew air-pollution permits to the uranium mines (Canyon Mine, EZ Mine and Pinenut Mine) in early December. No public hearings for areas that will be affected by the mining and transport of uranium ore have been planned. Conservation groups questioned the appropriateness of granting all three permits, including for the EZ Mine, which has yet to receive necessary federal operating permits.
“One of ADEQ’s permits is for a uranium mine that has yet to submit a plan of operations for public review or approval by the U.S. Forest Service,” said Grand Canyon Trust’s Roger Clark. “Without a specific plan, why is ADEQ issuing a permit for the ‘EZ’ uranium mine? Why would the state preapprove a permit to pollute for a mine that may not open for decades, if ever?”
Negative impacts to cultural heritage sites and water resources from existing uranium mines are well documented. The Havasupai people have long opposed Canyon Mine, which is located just miles from Red Butte, a designated “Traditional Cultural Property.” Research showing the toxic legacy of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon’s watershed led President Obama to temporarily withdraw federal land around Grand Canyon from new uranium mining in 2012.
“It’s outrageous to allow mining companies to pollute our air and water with radioactive dust known to threaten human health and wildlife,” said Katie Davis, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Issuing these permits would show a reckless disregard of the state’s duty to protect the welfare of its citizens and the air, water and wildlife of Arizona.”
The comments also note the long history of violations of safety and reporting requirements by the mine operator, Energy Fuels, as well as the location of the mines within the protected airspace of Grand Canyon National Park. Studies of other uranium mines near Grand Canyon show a strong likelihood of radioactive contamination of surrounding public land, while uranium ore may be trucked along busy roads and highways covered by nothing more than a tarp.
“Sierra Club is committed to safeguarding Grand Canyon and protecting the health and welfare of the people of Arizona,” said Sandy Bahr, director of Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. “The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality should also focus on these important goals and exercise the utmost caution and deny approval of these air permits for all three uranium mines.”
The groups’ comment also requested a public hearing and an extension of the comment period to allow for greater public participation. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s public notice states that comments from the public on the proposed permit renewals will be accepted until Jan. 4, 2016.