The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
A draft letter backed by officials in Arizona and Utah is urging the Trump administration to review the uranium mining ban near the Grand Canyon. The letter, which is expected to be sent to Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke on Monday, asks the department to completely overturn the Obama-era environmental protections.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Wilderness Society urged the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 14 to reject Amendment 133 to the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 1012 (H.R. 7). The proposed amendment would overturn the Department of the Interior’s decision to ban uranium mining on more than 1 million acres of federal public lands and National Forests in northern Arizona for the next 20 years.
The amendment—offered by Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ-2), Jeff Flake (R-AZ-6), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ-1)—is a mirror of H.R. 3155, the “Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011.” The legislation would better be called the “Mining the Grand Canyon Act,” for it would allow threatening, industrialized activity near the Grand Canyon. The Wilderness Society has profiled this bill, in addition to other threats, in a new report—Wilderness Under Siege.
“The American people, President Obama and Secretary Salazar understand the historic and natural values of the Grand Canyon and have all worked together to protect this treasure,” said David Moulton, senior director of legislative affairs at The Wilderness Society. “America has a long history of protecting iconic places against short-term gains like mining. We should not start on a dangerous path that would open our lands to corporate polluters at the expense of current and future generations of Americans. On Valentine’s Day, these members need to show more love for America’s Grand Canyon than they do.”
If passed, Amendment 133 would prevent the protection of the Grand Canyon, flanking the park with new roads, mines, exploration drilling, power lines and truck traffic. This activity would damage wildlife habitat and popular hunting grounds and increase pollution in the Grand Canyon watershed. Additionally, it would harm Arizona’s tourism and recreation economy. The outdoor recreation business in Arizona annually supports 82,000 jobs, generates almost $350 million in state tax revenue, and stimulates about $5 billion in retail sales and services. The Grand Canyon National Park alone generates an estimated 10,000 jobs and $420 million in economic activity by attracting more than 4 million visitors annually. Furthermore, a recent bi-partisan poll in Arizona found that “70 percent of voters say that the impact of mining on land and water is a serious problem in Arizona.”
To learn more about the “Mining the Grand Canyon Act” and Wilderness Under Siege, click here.
For more information, click here.
Announced Jan. 26, the Southern Environmental Law Center's (SELC) 4th annual list of the Top 10 Endangered Places of the Southeast targets areas of exceptional ecological, scenic, or cultural value that are facing immediate, possibly irreversible threats—and the important actions needed in 2012 to protect them. Many of the areas on this year’s list are endangered by pressure to undercut environmental protections and to lower the hurdles for potentially destructive projects, whether it’s fracking in the North Carolina Piedmont, mining uranium in Virginia, or deepwater drilling off the coast of Alabama.
“Under the guise of promoting economic growth, anti-environmental forces are working in Congress, in state legislatures, and in government agencies to gut our most essential safeguards,” said Marie Hawthorne, SELC’s director of development. “But doing away with effective laws and enforcement will accomplish nothing except sacrifice natural treasures like those on our Top 10 list, and other resources that make the South such a great place to live, work, and raise our families. We owe it to ourselves—and to future generations—to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Following is SELC's 4th annual Top 10 Endangered Places of the Southeast:
1. Alabama's Coast
What's at Stake?
Miles of white sandy beaches, wetlands, bays, and swamps that support vibrant tourism and fishing industries; habitat for migratory birds, turtles, and rare species; economic health of coastal communities; public health.
Future spills on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster due to the absence of meaningful reforms of oil industry practices or government policies.
Alabama’s coast is on SELC’s endangered list for the second year in a row because a disaster on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon could happen again. The government is back to business as usual, rubber-stamping risky deepwater projects with the same flawed assumptions that led to the BP spill—almost as if it never happened.
In June 2011, for example, the Bureau of Oceans Energy Management (BOEM) gave Shell Oil the green light to drill an exploratory well off of Alabama’s coast in waters 2,000 feet deeper than the Horizon well, and without the enhanced environmental review promised immediately after the BP spill. Worse, regulators acknowledge that the operations could result in an oil spill almost ten times bigger than the BP disaster. SELC believes this approach is irresponsible and illegal, and blatantly ignores the devastating impacts to Gulf wildlife, the tourism and fishing industries, and coastal communities caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
SELC is challenging BOEM’s decision as part of our ongoing multi-front offensive, including lawsuits, activity in Congress, and engagement with federal agencies to end industry control of offshore drilling and prevent future disasters.
2. Dawson Forest, Georgia
What's at Stake?
Habitat for federally protected fish species found nowhere else in the world; 1,200 acres of forest; a haven for hunters, anglers, horseback riders, hikers, cyclists and paddlers; water supplies for downstream communities.
A massive, unnecessary, $650 million proposed reservoir on Shoal Creek that would be filled with 100 million gallons of water per day pumped from the Etowah River.
An hour’s drive north of Atlanta, Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area is a 10,000-acre wooded refuge for hunters, anglers, paddlers, and bikers who enjoy miles of scenic backcountry trails criss-crossed by the Etowah River. Shoal Creek, a major tributary feeding the Etowah, is home to federally protected fish species found nowhere else in the world.
Unfortunately, Dawson Forest is threatened by a massive, unnecessary, expensive proposed reservoir that would drain 100 million gallons per day from the Etowah River to fuel metro Atlanta’s ever-growing water supply demand. The Etowah would lose a quarter of its water during high-flow months—and during the low-flow season, withdrawals would drain nearly 100 percent of the river’s volume, wiping out aquatic life and diminishing water supplies for downstream communities in Cherokee, Cobb, Bartow, and Floyd counties.
The Dawson Forest project is one of a half-dozen new reservoirs being proposed outside metro Atlanta, illustrating a misguided notion among Georgia leaders that these costly, destructive projects are the first and best solution to meeting Georgia’s water supply needs. But SELC and our partners view new reservoirs as a last resort when there are far more cost-effective, less damaging, and readily available options available. First and foremost, we are advocating the full implementation of water conservation and efficiency measures in metro Atlanta, coupled with expanding the city’s existing reservoirs to their full capacity. This solution could virtually eliminate the need for new reservoirs at a fraction of the cost to Georgia’s environment, taxpayers, and downstream communities.
We are also pushing back against efforts to lower the regulatory hurdles for reservoir proposals, including the use of a new law that eases the way for public-private partnerships to develop reservoirs and recoup costs with user fees.
3. Catawba—Wateree River Basin, North Carolina and South Carolina
What's at Stake?
A river system that drains 5,000 miles of waterways and provides drinking water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people.
The impacts of electric power generation and unnecessary reservoir projects.
Comprising 5,000 miles of waterways, the Catawba-Wateree river system originates on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge and then winds through the rapidly urbanizing North Carolina Piedmont before entering the lush lowlands of South Carolina. Along its 300-mile route, it provides clean water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people. Threats endangering the health of this vital resource include:
Pollution from Coal Ash Sites. Coal-fired power plants generate millions of tons of ash, which typically has been dumped into unlined and poorly monitored ponds and landfills. Five of the most hazardous coal ash ponds in the U.S. are on the Catawba-Wateree River and its tributaries, including a site that has discharged arsenic-laden pollution for years. SELC has filed suit to compel South Carolina Electric and Gas to clean it up.
Water Withdrawals by Power Plants. According to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Catawba River ranks among the 25 watersheds nationwide that suffer from the highest levels of water-supply stress due to the water demands of power plants for steam production and cooling purposes.
Hydroelectric Dams. Over the last century, much of the Catawba-Wateree was impounded to generate electricity, and for decades, power companies have been allowed to operate their dams in ways that disrupt healthy stream flows and fish migration. As Duke Energy applies for a new federal license for a series of five hydroelectric plants in South Carolina, it is seeking to trade land and cash for permission to maintain harmfully low flows in the Catawba-Wateree for the next fifty years. Learn more about SELC's legal action to protect the river.
Unnecessary Reservoir Projects. Two counties—one in North Carolina and another in South Carolina—have proposed a 92-acre reservoir off the main channel of the Catawba-Wateree that is sure to fuel more sprawl and pollution in the Charlotte metro area. What’s more, water withdrawn from the reservoir would be discharged into another river basin, robbing water from downstream farms and communities that depend on the Catawba-Wateree. If approved, this project would pave the way for other municipalities to build their own new reservoirs before first exhausting less environmentally damaging means to satisfy demand, such as increasing their water systems’ efficiency, encouraging their customers to conserve water, and exploring interconnections to other systems with excess capacity. Such reservoirs often needlessly destroy significant wetlands and wildlife habitat.
4. North Carolina Piedmont
What's at Stake?
Rural lands in the North Carolina Piedmont and drinking water sources for some 2.4 million people.
Pressure to repeal a law that thus far has kept “fracking” wells out of North Carolina.
Requiring the high-pressure injection of water, sand, and a stew of chemicals into shale formations, the use of hydraulic fracturing—a.k.a. “fracking”—to extract natural gas has been linked to groundwater contamination, pollution in lakes and rivers, even earthquakes. A study by Duke University scientists found methane concentrations 17 times above normal, on average, in samples taken from water wells near fracking sites.
The gas drilling industry and its political allies are pushing hard to bring this controversial process to North Carolina’s rural Piedmont. The only thing standing in their way is a state law that bans horizontal drilling, which thus far has kept hydraulic fracturing in check. If pro-fracking forces succeed in repealing the ban, state regulators will face enormous new challenges for protecting the Piedmont’s land and water.
Even with the ban in place, gas companies have snapped up scores of leases for potential drilling sites in Piedmont counties that overlie the state’s Triassic Basins, a shale-rich geologic formation that stretches from the Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) to the South Carolina state line. These properties would be transformed into 24-7 industrial operations, with gas flaring, bright lights, and a steady stream of trucks carrying equipment, water, and waste.
An SELC analysis shows that potential gas formations in the Triassic Basins are underneath or upstream from public drinking water supplies for 2.4 million people. Gas drilling could also affect the quantity of water available to the state’s citizens. A single fracking well can require as much as 5 million gallons, much of which comes back to the surface as chemical-laden flowback that must be either trucked away to treatment facilities or stored onsite. According to a draft EPA study, fracking chemicals have been detected in groundwater near disposal pits and wells.
Congress has exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, leaving it largely to the states to police this industry. North Carolina, which has slashed the budget of its environmental agency by more than a third, will be hard-pressed to provide adequate protection for the state’s waters and rural lands.
5. Savannah River, South Carolina and Georgia
What's at Stake?
Aquatic wildlife habitat, freshwater marshlands, and drinking water for Savannah and other communities.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to deepen 38 miles of the Savannah River shipping channel.
A prime spot on the Atlantic Flyway, the marshlands of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge provide a vital rest stop for thousands of migratory waterfowl, as well as a permanent home for many other species. Over the years, successive dredging of the Savannah River has allowed saltwater from the Atlantic to chip away at the refuge’s freshwater marshes. Even more will be lost if the Army Corps of Engineers is allowed to move forward with its plan to deepen 38 miles of the river’s shipping channel.
The Savannah Harbor project, which would deepen the river by as much as six feet, is part of a mad scramble by U.S. ports to attract the larger class of container ships that will come through the Panama Canal when its expansion is completed in 2014. In addition to damaging hundreds of acres of the refuge’s freshwater wetlands, the dredging would threaten drinking water for Savannah and other communities. It would also require the Corps to install massive “bubbling” devices to maintain sufficient dissolved oxygen levels for aquatic life in the river, including rare and at-risk species and commercially important fish populations. This technology has not been proven effective.
All of this would carry a price tag of at least $650 million, and it may be completely unnecessary. The Panama Canal’s chief executive officer has said publicly that only two harbors on the East Coast and one on the Gulf Coast would be needed to service the supersized freighters carrying goods along the East-West trade lane. Rather than pour scarce taxpayer dollars into one of the most environmentally destructive projects currently proposed in the Southeast, the Corps should do what federal law requires—conduct a regional assessment to determine which ports can be expanded at the least expense and with the least damage to precious natural resources.
6. Chilhowee Mountain, Tennessee
What's at Stake?
A popular recreation spot and natural area that includes hiking and biking trails and a leg of the first scenic byway ever established in a U.S. national forest.
Pressure to complete an outdated highway plan that could push new asphalt across the shoulder of the mountain and through Cherokee National Forest.
Chilhowee Mountain in the southernmost district of Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest is a beloved destination for people who enjoy the outdoors. On its crest is the Chilhowee Recreation Area, a popular spot for picnicking, camping, and swimming. Each weekend finds hikers and bikers on its extensive trail network, which leads to waterfalls, cascading streams, and views of the Ocoee River Gorge below.
The road leading to the Chilhowie Recreation Area is part of the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the first scenic byway designated in a U.S. national forest. The winding drive to the mountain’s ridgeline rewards motorists and cyclists with stunning vistas. Three states—Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia—are visible on clear days.
Chilhowie Mountain and the rugged peaks and hollows in its viewshed are in the path of Corridor K, a chain of highways linking Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Asheville, North Carolina. Despite the fact that completion of the interstate system made the project obsolete, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is studying multiple options for finishing the leg of Corridor K running through the Ocoee Region. Among them are proposals for routing a new four-lane, divided highway across the shoulder of Chilhowee Mountain and through largely unspoiled reaches of the Cherokee National Forest.
When it was conceived in 1964 by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Corridor K was seen as a means of lifting this area out of poverty. But since then, local citizens have built a thriving, tourism-based economy that capitalizes on the Ocoee Region’s extraordinary natural assets. Pushing new asphalt through national forest lands would jeopardize the intact wildlife habitat, clear-running rivers and streams, and mountain scenery that have made Chilhowee Mountain and the Ocoee Gorge a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts.
Rather than pour a billion dollars or more into a new road, TDOT should focus on targeted upgrades along the existing two-lane highway, U.S. 64—the lifeline of the local economy. This would improve safety, enhance the flow of traffic during the busy tourist season, and preserve the natural and cultural features that are vital to the Ocoee Region and its communities.
7. Virginia and Tennessee Mountains
What's at Stake?
Scenic beauty of the Southern Appalachians, wildlife habitat, endangered species, headwater streams, clean drinking water for downstream communities, recreation areas, quality of life.
Weak laws allow coal companies to blow up mountains and dump rubble into valleys, burying streams, destroying wildlife habitat, and harming communities
Dubbed “the Appalachian Apocalypse,” mountaintop removal coal mining has obliterated more than 500 mountains and damaged more than 1,700 miles of streams in central Appalachian states. Forests and topsoil are stripped from mountain ridges, and then, using tons of explosives, coal companies blast the mountaintops off to expose the underlying coal seams. The leftover rock and soil is pushed into nearby valleys, resulting in the loss of critical forest habitat and widespread destruction of mountain streams, many of which are critical headwaters for drinking water sources downstream.
At stake are some of the South’s most valued natural treasures, including the species-rich Clinch and Powell watersheds in Virginia and Tennessee, and Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, an area known for its world-class biodiversity. 2012 could be a landmark year for Tennessee due to the State’s groundbreaking petition, which SELC is supporting, that would shield the most ecologically valuable areas in the Cumberlands from destructive mining practices.
8. Charlottesville, Virginia
What's at Stake?
Taxpayer dollars, rural countryside, public health, natural beauty, community character.
A wasteful, destructive bypass would mar landscapes, cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, endanger public health, and fail to solve traffic problems
Charlottesville is no stranger to Top Ten lists, but it’s usually in recognition of the area’s exceptional quality of life, unique community character, or beautiful surrounding countryside. Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shenandoah National Park, it is home to outstanding schools including the University of Virginia, historic sites such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a vibrant arts scene, vineyards and horse farms, and other attractions that draw more than 2 million visitors per year.
This special place would be deeply and irreparably scarred if a long-obsolete plan to build a bypass around U.S. Route 29 goes forward. Described as one of the most wasteful and destructive projects in the country by Taxpayers for Common Sense and Friends of the Earth, the Bypass would leave a permanent gash on the landscape, cost hundreds of millions in a time of fiscal constraints, endanger citizens’ health, pave over countryside, and fail to solve traffic problems. The proposal isn’t new—in fact it was shelved more than a decade ago by local leaders. But in the summer of 2011, the Bypass was revived in a rushed process that showed little respect for public input, skirted environmental review, and ignored years of efforts by community leaders, SELC, and others to advance more cost-effective, less destructive alternatives.
Before it can be built, the road must be approved at the local, state, and federal levels. Local and state leaders have approved it, but the critical federal decision-making process is far from over. SELC attorneys will ensure that the federal government’s review is thorough and that it fully considers updated information on the ineffectiveness of the bypass, the long list of negative community impacts, and the availability of better alternatives before a decision is made.
9. Chesapeake Bay, Virginia
What's at Stake?
The nation’s largest estuary, which supports populations of oysters, blue crabs, striped bass, and other species vital to the health of commercial and recreational fisheries.
Nutrient and sediment pollution flowing into the bay from throughout its 64,000-square-mile watershed, as well as legal challenges to EPA’s restoration plan.
The Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, is a place where freshwater and seawater come together to form one of the world’s most productive ecosystems. The bay supports more than 3,600 species of plants and animals, including populations of oysters, blue crabs, Atlantic menhaden, and striped bass that are vital to the health of commercial and recreational fisheries.
For decades, this extraordinary resource has suffered from pollution pouring in from all sides—by air, land, and water. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants, stormwater from municipal sewer systems, runoff from farms and suburban lawns, mud from bare construction sites, and emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks all contribute to the nutrients and sediment flowing into the bay. These pollutants feed algae that cloud the bay’s waters and, when they die off, create oxygen-starved dead zones incapable of supporting aquatic wildlife.
The six states in the bay watershed pledged to stem this destructive tide, but when it became clear that they would fail to meet cleanup deadlines, they turned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take charge of the process. EPA stepped in and developed the most sophisticated water restoration plan ever crafted for the bay. Released in December 2010, EPA’s recovery plan—known as a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL—calculates how much pollution the bay can withstand and how much pollution must be reduced from all sources throughout the bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed.
EPA’s goal is to achieve full implementation of this “pollution diet” by 2025, but it will take years more, perhaps even decades, for the bay to recover completely. In the meantime, industry interests and their political allies are doing all they can to impede the cleanup effort. The Farm Bureau and the National Association of Home Builders have both filed suit to challenge the TMDL. Anti-environmental forces in Congress also have piled on, attempting to pass legislation that would prevent EPA from moving forward with its restoration plan.
10. Southside, Virginia
What's at Stake?
Clean drinking water for more than 1 million people in Southside Virginia and North Carolina.
Intense pressure to lift Virginia’s 30-year ban on uranium mining; radioactive waste leaking into streams and groundwater; risk of cancer, birth defects, and other health problems from exposure to uranium or mining chemicals
In 2012 or 2013, Virginia’s General Assembly may be asked to lift the state’s 30-year ban on uranium mining, largely due to pressure from a Canadian-backed company that wants to mine a deposit near Danville. The proposed mining and waste disposal operation would be in the Roanoke River watershed and threatens drinking water supplies for more than a million people in Southside Virginia and North Carolina, including residents of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
Extracting uranium ore requires intensive use of water and chemicals, and leaves behind massive amounts of radioactive and contaminated waste. There is no precedent for underground or open-pit uranium mining in the East, where the population density and a wet climate increase the chance of toxic and radioactive materials leaking into streams groundwater, and drinking water supplies. The potential health impacts of exposure to uranium and mining chemicals are well-documented and include several types of cancer, birth defects, and vital organ damage.
In December 2011, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a study that validates many of SELC’s core concerns about uranium mining and the water quality risks associated with uranium tailings, which can be a potential source of radioactive contamination for thousands of years. The NAS study also confirmed that Virginia state agencies have no experience with uranium mining, and that current federal regulations are far from sufficient to ensure public health and safety.
SELC is at the forefront of a statewide citizen effort, the Keep the Ban Coalition, to ensure the statewide freeze stays in place. We are also educating key decision makers about the dangers of uranium mining, and making certain that the state keeps its promise to seek public input before any legislation to lift the ban is put before the General Assembly.
Note: In May 2011, American Rivers named the Roanoke one of the 10 most endangered rivers due to the threat of uranium mining.
For more information, click here.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is scheduled to release a final determination Jan. 9 to withdraw 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon from new mining claims for 20 years, and Center for American Progress' (CAP) Public Lands Project released its Top Five Winners and Losers of Secretary Salazar’s Decision to Protect 1 Million Acres Around the Grand Canyon.
In praising the announcement, Christy Goldfuss, director of the Public Lands Project, noted, “This is the best call to protect a national treasure. After taking a time-out to study the impacts of excessive uranium mining on the Grand Canyon, the administration came to a fact-based conclusion. The real winners of this decision are American families that will continue to enjoy one of our country's most beautiful locations, the outdoor recreation industry that supports the conservation economy, and the millions of people that drink the water that flows through the region."
To respond to the inevitable attacks from enemies of conservation in Congress, the Public Lands Project outlines the top five winners and losers of the decision. The winners include:
- The 25 million people who get their drinking water from the Colorado River. One of the most important rivers in the nation, providing drinking water to 25 million Americans, would have been exposed to possible water contamination from uranium mining.
- American businesses in the outdoor recreation industry which thrives on Americans’ ability to get outside. In Arizona alone the outdoor recreation economy annually supports 82,000 jobs, generates almost $350 million in state tax revenue, and stimulates about $5 billion in retail sales and services.
- Arizona workers who benefit from tourism dollars in and around the Grand Canyon that create and sustain local jobs. Headwaters Economics found that Grand Canyon National Park supported more than 6,000 jobs in 2009 and tourists spent more than $400 million.
- Hunters and anglers who will not lose access to this prime fish and wildlife habitat. A letter from nine sportsmen groups in July 2011 noted that “Uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park is wholly unacceptable given the best science available and the potential impacts…” The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has endorsed the mineral withdrawal.
- American families who will continue to have an opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon in its untarnished state. Almost 5 million people visit every year to take part in camping, hiking below the rim, viewing the sights from the window of a lodge, or otherwise taking in the canyon’s natural magnificence.
The losers include:
- International atomic interests that have expressed interest in the uranium deposits around the Grand Canyon. Examples (many of which are foreign or multinational) include—Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency; Denison Mining, partially owned by Korea’s state-owned electric utility; and Vane Minerals, a British company.
- Congressmen Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Trent Franks (R-AZ) who have taken the lead in relentless attempts to force the administration to open the Grand Canyon area to industrial development. Flake’s effort over the summer to attach a policy rider on a budget bill to tie the Interior Department’s hands was dubbed “the Flake earmark.” Flake has already received $12,000 in campaign contributions from mining interests for his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign.
- The National Mining Association, one of the largest natural resources trade and lobbying groups in the nation, which fought this decision. In 2011 it spent $3,580,266 lobbying Congress on various issues, and its non-coal focused PAC has already spent $78,000 in campaign contributions for the 2012 cycle ($70,500 of which went to Republicans). A spokesman from the group in June stated that Secretary Salazar’s six-month withdrawal “sets a troublesome precedent.”
- Scientist Karen Wenrich, called to testify by Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, who stood to make $225,000 from alleging that there would be little impact from uranium mining on the Colorado River. Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that Karen Wenrich, a retired U.S. Geological Survey scientist, entered into a deal to sell 61 uranium claims only if the mineral withdrawal did not go through.
- Companies seeking to exploit the public’s treasures for corporate profits. Under the 1872 Mining Law, mining companies are not required to pay royalties to the public for the mineral resources that they extract. Not only are taxpayers not properly compensated for their natural resources, but they are frequently left to foot the bill for environmental cleanup.
- Salazar Protects The Grand Canyon from Toxic Uranium Mining
- President Obama Lays the Groundwork for His Conservation Legacy
For more information, click here.
The Center for American Progress Action Fund is the sister advocacy organization of the Center for American Progress. The Action Fund transforms progressive ideas into policy through rapid response communications, legislative action, grassroots organizing and advocacy, and partnerships with other progressive leaders throughout the country and the world. The Action Fund is also the home of the Progress Report.
The long-awaited report issued by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Dec. 19 echoes numerous pitfalls with potential uranium mining, milling and waste disposal in the Commonwealth that many concerned Virginians have expressed in past months.
The 300-page report was commissioned by the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission and is part of an ongoing contract between the commission and NAS that includes a public outreach and public meeting period over the next five months. The report does not make any recommendations about whether Virginia should or should not allow uranium mining, but raises significant environmental and public health concerns.
To read the NAS report, click here.
State law has maintained a nearly 30-year ban on uranium mining. Virginia Uranium, Inc., which wants to establish a uranium mine, mill, and waste disposal site in Pittsylvania County, is pushing the General Assembly to lift the ban in 2012, beginning with the drafting of regulations.
"This is a huge validation for many of the core concerns that we have been raising," said Cale Jaffe, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "As the report highlights, a uranium mine or processing facility could be subject to an uncontrolled release as a result of flood, hurricane or earthquake. In Virginia, we've experienced all of those extreme events just this year."
"The report highlights the difficulty of storing radioactive waste for thousands of years, given Virginia's climate, geology and population density," said Dan Holmes, director of State Policy for the Piedmont Environmental Council. "We are now more convinced that this would be a dangerous experiment in Virginia."
Among the cautionary points found by the NAS study committee:
A Huge Risk - According to the National Academy of Sciences—"Furthermore, Virginia is subject to relatively frequent storms that produce intense rainfall. It is questionable whether currently-engineered tailings repositories could be expected to prevent erosion and surface and groundwater contamination for as long as 1,000 years. Natural events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, intense rainfall, or drought could lead to the release of contaminants if facilities are not designed and constructed to withstand such events, or if they fail to perform as designed."
Severe Contamination Risks Exist—"Moreover, in a hydrologically active environment such as Virginia, with relatively frequent tropical and convective storms producing intense rainfall, it is questionable whether currently-engineered tailings repositories could be expected to prevent erosion and surface and groundwater contamination for 1,000 years. There are many reports in the literature of releases from improperly disposed tailings and their environmental effects."
A High Stakes Gamble—"A mine or processing facility could also be subject to uncontrolled releases of radioactive materials as a result of human error or an extreme event such as a flood, fire, or earthquake."
Adverse Impacts for Southside Agriculture—"Exposure could also occur from the release of contaminated water, or by leaching of radioactive materials into surface or groundwater from uranium tailings or other waste materials, where they could eventually end up in drinking water supplies or could accumulate in the food chain, eventually ending up in the meat, fish, or milk produced in the area."
A High Stakes Gamble—"Uranium tailings present a significant potential source of radioactive contamination for thousands of years ... because monitoring of tailings management sites has only been carried out for a short period, monitoring data are insufficient to assess the long-term effectiveness of tailings management facilities designed and constructed according to modern best practices."
Current U.S. Regulations are Insufficient—"The decay products of uranium (e.g., 230-Th, 226 Ra) provide a constant source of radiation in uranium tailings for thousands of years, substantially outlasting the current U.S. regulations for oversight of processing facility tailings."
Current U.S. Regulations are Insufficient—"The United States federal government has only limited recent experience regulating conventional uranium processing and reclamation of uranium mining and processing facilities. Because almost all uranium mining and processing to date has taken place in parts of the United States that have a negative water balance (dry climates with low rainfall), federal agencies have limited experience applying laws and regulations in positive water balance (wet climates with medium to high rainfall) situations."
Current U.S. Regulations are Insufficient—"The United States' federal government has only limited experience regulating conventional uranium mining, processing, and reclamation over the past two decades, with little new open pit and under-ground uranium mining activity in the United States since the late 1980s."
Long-Term Risk—"Tailings disposal sites represent potential sources of contamination for thousands of years, and the long-term risks remain poorly defined."
Unknown Risk—"Additionally, until comprehensive site-specific risk assessments are conducted, including accident and failure analyses, the short-term risk associated with natural disasters, accidents, and spills remain poorly defined."
Unique Risks for Virginia—"In the recent past, most uranium mining and processing has taken place in parts of the United States that have a negative water balance (dry climates with low rainfall), and consequently federal agencies have little experience developing and applying laws and regulations in locations with abundant rainfall and groundwater, and a positive water balance (wet climates with medium to high rainfall), such as Virginia."
Public Process—"However, under the current regulatory structure, opportunities for meaningful public involvement are fragmented and limited."
Water Quality Impacts—"Disturbances of the land surface associated with uranium mining in Virginia would be expected to have significant effects on both on-site and downstream surface water conditions. These disturbances affect both surface water quantity and quality."
For more information, click here.