Nel's New Day

July 10, 2013

Stop Mining at the Grand Canyon

grand canyon_2The Grand Canyon has been an icon of our national park system even before Woodrow Wilson declared is a national park in 1919. Almost 5 million people visit it each year to see its two-billion-year history. With the creation of Lake Powell, designed to gradually release water into the Colorado River after the Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1963, the Grand Canyon has been at risk. The beaches are disappearing along with native fish species that existed there for millions of years. Millennium-old American Indian burial sites are washing away. With no regular flooding, river banks are overrun by tamarisk bushes, and boulders washed out of side canyons are making the rapids more difficult to navigate.

“The Grand Canyon river corridor is getting nuked,” said David Haskell, a retired National Park Service officer who directed the Grand Canyon science center from 1994 to 1999. “It’s in the final stages of having the natural ecosystem completely destroyed and replaced with a man-made one because of the presence of the dam.”

Before the Glen Canyon was built, the sand washed down the river provided food for insects, food for fish and birds. Spawning beds for fish and sand bars where plants can grow and river rafters can sleep require this sediment. A 1996 experiment to open Glen Canyon’s floodgates raised the Colorado by 13 feet, but the new beaches disappeared in two years.

Now the government has found another way to destroy the Grand Canyon. The U.S. Forest Service has decided to allow the Canadian company Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. to begin operating a uranium mine near the park. The Canyon Mine, located on the Kaibab National Forest six miles south of the park, was originally approved in 1986. It became the subject of protests and lawsuits by the Havasupai Tribe and others because of impacts on groundwater, springs, creeks, ecosystems, and cultural values connected to Red Butte, a Traditional Cultural Property.

mineUranium mining rips up huge tracts of land to extract radioactive material for use in nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants, sending radioactive pollutants into the air. One of these is radon gas, which had no safeguards when the approval was made in 1986. With almost no environmental standards, the process falls under the Mining Law of 1872 that has no safeguards for soil, wildlife, people and water resources. This antiquated law actually gives mining a priority over all other uses of public lands.

Mines closed almost three decades ago still pollute streams in the area. The Orphan Mine at the South Rim of Grand Canyon closed in 1969 but still contaminates Horn Creek with radioactive runoff.  Recently, the National Park Service began a clean-up effort for that mine that will cost taxpayers millions.

The Canyon Mine falls within the one-million-acre “mineral withdrawal” approved by the Obama administration in January 2012 to protect Grand Canyon’s watershed from new uranium mining impacts. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and mine development on old claims lacking “valid existing rights” to mine. In April 2012, the Forest Service determined that there were “valid existing rights” for the Canyon mine, and in June it issued a report trying to explain its decision to allow the mine to open without updating the 27-year-old environmental review, developed during the Reagan administration. The Havasupai tribe and three conservation groups are challenging this.

mine 2The mine is located on a site sacred to the Havusupai and other tribes, including the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo. The Navajo are still fighting for a comprehensive cleanup of the hundreds of abandoned uranium mines scattered across their reservation, mines blamed for decades of health problems and deaths among residents unknowingly exposed to radioactivity. [Left: From Common Dreams comes this photo of the Canyon Mine with the Grand Canyon six miles to the north.]

evn-canyon  0327110900smLast year the Interior Department imposed a 20-year federal ban on new uranium mining covering 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon, but Energy Fuels Resources claims that its rights are grandfathered. Those rights were obtained before people could understand the dangers of uranium mining. Applying for a permit in 1984, Energy Fuels Resources did preliminary surface work two years later but stopped before the mine became operational because the price of uranium dropped.

In addition to contributing to the beauty of the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River supplies water to 30 million people in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and other Southwestern cities.

You can use your vote to oppose the mine and support the Grand Canyon and its watershed. http://act.credoaction.com/sign/grand_canyon

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