10/27/2011 The Grand Canyon – Protection of areas near national park from uranium mining a step closer By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent: WINDOW ROCK – The Obama administration took a critical step Wednesday toward protecting more than a million acres of public land around Grand Canyon National Park from mineral exploration and new uranium mining for the next 20 years. The Bureau of Land Management released the Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal which identifies the preferred alternative of withdrawing about 1 million acres from new mining claims under the 1872 Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to formally finalize Wednesday’s decision in 30 days.
“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,” BLM Director Bob Abbey said.
“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,” he said.
The Final EIS estimates that as many as 11 uranium mines could be operational over the next 20 years under the preferred alternative, including the four mines currently approved.
“It’s been a long struggle for us to preserve our homelands,” Carletta Tilousi said Wednesday evening. Tilousi, a member of the Havasupai Tribal Council, lives in Supai Village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. She also works with a group of Havasupai elders who have taken the lead to protect the Grand Canyon and sacred places.
“I’ve watched my elders travel in and out of the canyon to come to these public meetings and voice their opinions,” she said. “In my community it’s really been the traditional elders and the traditional practitioners that have really taken the lead to stand up in front of the federal officials and learn about the EIS and the BLM process and the Forest Service process.
“I’m very, very surprised, and at the same time I’m very happy that the government is finally listening to my people after many years. It’s really the elders’ victory. With the support of the Council they have been able to succeed in preserving it.”
Tilousi said cancer rates have risen in their small community, something she attributes to the federal government’s above-ground atomic testing at Nevada Test Site.
“We were downwinders of that and I have noticed that a lot of my people are coming face to face and battling cancer. It’s just another struggle from uranium mining and the nuclear industry that’s taken many lives from my community and the neighboring tribes. If the U.S. government really wants to preserve human life, I think this is the right thing to do – a million acres be put aside for preservation. No one wants to lose life over profit,” she said.
The Arizona 1 mine is 15 miles northwest of the village. Another mine is located 25 miles away as the crow flies, right above their watershed, Havasu Creek, she said. “That’s the river that we sustain ourselves with down in Supai Canyon.” Tribal members are conducting ongoing water testing to monitor for heavy metals.
“We’ve learned so much from the Navajo people and their challenges, that we really stood up against this. Since 1984 this has been an issue that my tribe’s been fighting,” she said. “It’s just been a lifelong struggle for me. When uranium was first brought up, I was probably 13 years old. Now I’m 41. When I watch my elders, all the challenges and fights that they’ve been through, it’s inevitable that I’m going to be old and still continuing this work.”
The Navajo Nation submitted comments in May through Navajo Environmental Protection Agency Executive Director Stephen B. Etsitty and David Taylor from the Department of Justice, in support of the preferred alternative.
The Nation also said that if the Interior intends to allow for limited uranium mining and milling where valid existing rights are found, then it must be willing to provide adequate resources and technical support to the Navajo Nation for improved emergency planning and response capabilities to address any potential releases of hazardous and radioactive substances along transport routes, especially any that traverse the Navajo Nation.
In addition, Navajo requested enhanced government-to-government consultation on any subsequent federal decisions that could impact Navajo Nation resources, as well as enhanced federal policy implementation supporting the role of the Navajo Nation in any subsequent decisions the state of Arizona may make regarding uranium mining and processing.
Tilousi said one of her main concerns with the operating mine approximately 15 miles away on the North Rim is radioactive particles being carried on the prevailing wind at 30 to 40 miles per hour.
“It’s coming our direction and it’s coming through the air. People can’t see it or smell it or touch it, but I know, I sense that it’s coming through. That’s the scariest part. You don’t know how it’s affecting you until way later. And then it’s too late.”
Conservation groups commended Salazar and the Obama administration for the decision to protect public lands.
“The Grand Canyon is an international icon, a biodiversity hot spot and a huge economic engine for the Southwest,” Taylor McKinnon, public-lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said. “Protecting it from uranium mining pollution is the right thing to do.”