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Republican lawmakers led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) proposed legislation Oct. 12 to open 1 million acres of public lands that form Grand Canyon National Park’s watershed to new uranium mining. The bill would overturn an existing moratorium on new mining and mining claims and block Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s proposal to extend those protections for the next 20 years.
"We are disappointed in this jobs-killing legislation. Uranium mining threatens thousands of tourism-related jobs in northern Arizona,” said Roger Clark, air and energy program director at Grand Canyon Trust. “Salazar has found the right balance between protecting Grand Canyon and the $700 million tourism industry while leaving promising mining areas further from the national park open to exploration and mining.”
There is widespread public support for the interior’s proposed mining ban from American Indian tribes, local governments, scientists, elected officials, businesses, hunting and fishing organizations, and conservation groups. About 300,000 members of the public commented in support of the ban, which is expected to be decided in December.
“It is unconscionable that Senator McCain and Representatives Flake and Franks are seeking to undermine protections for Grand Canyon and its watershed and showing so little regard for the people of Arizona, including all of those who expressed strong support for protecting these lands from uranium mining and the pollution it produces,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.
The Grand Canyon and Four Corners region still suffers the pollution legacy of past mining. American Indian tribes in the region—Havasupai, Hualapai, Kaibab-Paiute, Navajo and Hopi—have banned uranium mining on their lands. Water in Horn Creek, located in Grand Canyon National Park just below the old Orphan uranium mine, exhibits dissolved uranium concentrations more than 10 times the health-based standards established by the U.S. EPA for drinking water. Groundwater below old mines north of Grand Canyon has measured dissolved uranium more than 1,000 times allowable for drinking-water standards.
“Neither mining corporations nor lawmakers nor public agencies can guarantee that uranium mining wouldn’t further contaminate aquifers feeding Grand Canyon’s springs and creeks. Such pollution—the kind we see in Horn Creek today—would be impossible to clean up,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “A decade ago Senator McCain was a defender of Grand Canyon. Today he’s one of its greatest threats.”
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