For Immediate Release, August 15, 2016
State of Arizona Asked to Reject Permit Renewals for
Uranium Mines Near Grand Canyon National Park
Uranium Mining Pollutes Air, Water, Soil With Toxic Waste, Heavy Metals, Radioactivity
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— Conservation groups today asked the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to deny air permits for three uranium mines near Grand Canyon and to continue monitoring a mine that is no longer active. All of these mines are located within watersheds (surface and ground) that drain directly into Grand Canyon National Park and threaten water, air and other important resources of the greater Grand Canyon ecoregion. Those include soil, wildlife, sacred American Indian sites and the health of people who are exposed to the heavy metals, including arsenic and lead, and radiation associated with these mines.
Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity filed comments with the department outlining ongoing concerns with the four uranium mines. The groups noted that in 2010 they, Coconino County Supervisor Carl Taylor and hundreds of citizens objected to issuing air permits for these mines because of unacceptable risks to residents and visitors to the Grand Canyon region. The state agency has yet to address the substantive issues that were raised.
Earlier this year the department suspended the permit-renewal process after increased uranium levels were found in the soil near Pinenut Mine, north of Grand Canyon. Soil tests indicated that the uranium levels were four times higher than the normal background levels.
“Once again we see the cumulative evidence of uranium contamination,” said Roger Clark with the Grand Canyon Trust. “When will the Grand Canyon State stop issuing permits to pollute our air and water?”
“For more than a half-century, uranium mining has permanently polluted our land, air and water. Its deadly legacy is well documented and yet state and federal agencies are still permitting new mines,” said Sandy Bahr with Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Given the proximity of these mines to Grand Canyon and the history of contamination, ADEQ should give these mines the utmost scrutiny and reject these permits.”
“Uranium mining on the Colorado Plateau unleashed an unending environmental disaster that has permanently scarred the landscape and local communities,” said Katie Davis with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s unconscionable that the state would continue to sacrifice our natural heritage and the health of our fellow citizens by granting these permits.”
In 2012 the Obama administration issued a “mineral withdrawal” prohibiting new mining claims and the development of claims lacking valid existing rights across 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Despite public protests and legal challenges from local American Indian tribes and conservation groups, federal agencies allowed several uranium mines established prior to the withdrawal, including the Canyon, AZ1 and Pinenut mines, to resume operations. All the mines are operated by Energy Fuels Resources, Inc., a company with a history of regulatory violations.
The Canyon Mine is located on the Kaibab National Forest, six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. It is currently operating and has obtained the needed federal permits, which are being challenged in federal court by the Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups. The AZ1 and EZ mines are both located north of Grand Canyon on Bureau of Land Management lands. Operations at AZ1 are currently suspended. The EZ mine is not yet operational and has not been permitted at the federal level. The Pinenut Mine site is not currently operational and is supposed to be undergoing reclamation activities. Located north of Grand Canyon on BLM lands, the Pinenut site remains contaminated and continues to be a source of radioactive dust pollution; conservation groups are asking the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to continue to officially monitor the mine to ensure adequate cleanup.