Uranium mining at Grand Canyon

Kanab North Mine perched on edge of Kanab Creek, which feeds into Grand Canyon and Colorado River ~Photo by Don Bills/USGS

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s Record of Decision is imminent, finalizing a hard-won, 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on more than one million acres of public-land watersheds surrounding Grand Canyon. Meanwhile, Republicans introduce legislation to strip the Secretary’s authority to order the ban, and Trust appeals decision to allow existing mines to move forward.

On October 26, the Bureau of Land Management released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed ban on new uranium claims. It was a big win for Grand Canyon, supported by an unprecedented coalition of business leaders, city and county elected officials, tribal governments, sporting groups, ranchers, and conservationists. Thanks to everyone for submitting more than 300,000 comments to the Draft EIS. And a special thanks to groups like the Grand Canyon River Guides, who wrote Secretary Salazar to express support for the mining ban, following BLM’s release of the Final EIS.

In explaining the agency’s “preferred alternative,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said: “The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world. Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure. The preferred alternative would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area.”

The Record of Decision (ROD) to implement the preferred alternative is expected to be published in the Federal Register sometime in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, legislation introduced by Arizona Congressmen Flake and Gosar and Senators McCain and Kyl to strip the Secretary of the Interior’s authority to order the ban remain stalled in Congress. Public opposition to congressional intervention is being bolstered by editorials and strong leadership by Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. In recent months, the Grand Canyon has come under political siege by several special interests.

Representatives of the uranium industry have already signaled their intent to appeal the Record of Decision for the 20-year ban. The Trust and allied organizations are preparing to intervene in the appeal. On a related legal action, attorneys for the Grand Canyon Trust and Center for Biological Diversity have filed an appeal of a lower court’s decision to uphold the Bureau of Land Management’s permit to allow the Arizona 1 uranium mine to re-open without revising its Environmental Assessment (EA) issued in 1988. Our appeal claims that the outdated EA fails to consider more recent listings of endangered species as well as new information about environmental risks posed by uranium mining.   ~Roger Clark

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