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For Immediate Release, March 17, 2008


Dave Gowdey, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310.6713
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790

Legislation Introduced to Protect Grand Canyon From Uranium Threat

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) today announced his introduction of the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2008, legislation prohibiting new uranium mining across 1 million acres of public lands in watersheds surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.

“We believe that the current uranium boom poses one of the greatest potential threats to Grand Canyon National Park in decades,” said David Gowdey of the Grand Canyon Trust. “Uranium development at the borders of the park threatens to contaminate park waters with radioactive waste, pose public-health problems for local residents and downstream communities dependent upon Colorado River water, and disrupt the park's unique ecosystems.”

The legislation would prohibit new uranium mining in the last three portions of federal land surrounding Grand Canyon not protected from uranium mining: the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the canyon, the Kanab Creek watershed north of the park, and House Rock Valley, between Grand Canyon National Park and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

“We applaud Congressman Grijalva for his leadership on protecting Grand Canyon,” said Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “This is an important step to ensure that the watershed is not denigrated by additional uranium mining and that we keep intact this amazing area for future generations.”

Owing to a 15-fold increase in uranium prices in the past eight years, a surge in new uranium development surrounding Grand Canyon includes thousands of new claims that have been filed in areas around the Grand Canyon National Park and its watersheds since 2003.

On the Tusayan Ranger District alone — immediately south of Grand Canyon — there are 2,100 uranium claims, five uranium exploration projects slated, and the possible opening of one uranium mine. Conservationists opposed the first of five exploration projects last week.

“Grand Canyon is a national and international treasure facing a massive new uranium buildup on adjacent federal lands,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill affords the protections it deserves. We applaud the Congressman’s efforts.”

The boom has renewed concerns about the impacts of uranium development on surface and ground water, air and land contamination, and noise and traffic on the park and its ecosystems, residents, and communities. The Colorado River and its tributaries in Grand Canyon provide drinking water for more than 30 million people in California, Arizona, and Nevada.

On February 5, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution opposing uranium mining in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon and its watersheds and requesting that Congress take action to put these areas off limits to uranium development.

On March 7, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne requesting these areas be administratively withdrawn from mining on an expedited basis.

“Protecting Grand Canyon transcends party politics,” said Gowdey. “This legislation, like the Canyon itself, deserves support from both sides of the aisle. The Coconino County Board of Supervisors, Governor Napolitano, and Congressman Grijalva have all recognized the urgent need to help protect the Grand Canyon and preserve it for future generations, now the rest of the Arizona delegation needs to step up.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week heard testimony on legislation proposed to reform the 1872 mining law. Owing to that law, federal agencies say they have little power to deny new mines on many federal lands.

“The need for the Grand Canyon legislation in part rests with the need to reform the antiquated 1872 mining law,” said McKinnon. “Federal agencies need clear and strong authority to say no to new uranium mining. Until they do, bills like this will be needed to protect America’s most treasured places.”

Congressman Grijalva has scheduled a hearing of the House in Flagstaff, Arizona on Friday, March 28 focusing on the impacts of uranium mining near Grand Canyon. The hearing is a joint effort of House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, which the Congressman chairs.

To see the text of the legislation, click here.
To see a copy of the letter sent by Governor Janet Napolitano, click here.
To see a map of uranium claims near the Grand Canyon and the areas proposed for withdrawal, click here.
To see the Coconino County Board of Supervisors’ uranium resolution, click here.

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