10/27/2011 Gallup Independent: The Grand Canyon – Protection of areas near national park from uranium mining a step closer
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.”
10/13/2011 Center for Biological Diversity: GRAND CANYON URANIUM MINING: Public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park contain some of the highest concentrations of uranium deposits in North America. Spikes in uranium prices in recent years have caused an explosion of new mining claims and exploration on those lands. Threats posed by exploration and the potential mining it portends — damage to wildlife and habitat, contamination of waters, and the industrialization of iconic landscapes — has prompted objections from conservation groups, native tribes, government officials and the public. It has spawned litigation spearheaded by the Center, as well as congressional action including legislation and a resolution on emergency mineral withdrawal. In February 2011, the Obama administration announced a draft plan to protect 1 million acres of the Grand Canyon watershed from new uranium mining.
SOUTH RIM LITIGATION
In March 2008, the Center filed suit against the Kaibab National Forest for approving a plan to conduct exploratory uranium drilling at 39 sites just south of Grand Canyon National Park, the first of five such projects slated for the area. Our challenge focused on the validity of the Forest Service’s use of a categorical exclusion from National Environmental Policy Act requirements in authorizing the plan. After a federal judge halted the project in April 2008, we settled the case in what attorneys considered a “complete victory,” compelling the Forest Service to produce a comprehensive environmental impact statement for which a study is now underway. The suit attracted national media attention and has anchored a broader campaign.
GRAND CANYON WATERSHEDS PROTECTION ACT
Soon after we filed our South Rim suit, and spurred by water-contamination concerns raised in the context of that suit, Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva introduced legislation to withdraw 1 million acres of public land in watersheds surrounding the Grand Canyon from mineral entry. The Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act would invalidate all unproven claims, prevent the staking of new claims, and prohibit the exploration of unproven claims — thereby preventing the establishment of mining rights that are difficult to reverse. The Center was instrumental in helping to arrange a field hearing in which leaders from five tribes, scientists and the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park all testified about uranium’s deadly impacts and either implied or explicitly stated support for the bill.
CONGRESSIONAL WITHDRAWAL AND LITIGATION
To protect the canyon pending the passing of the Grand Canyon Watershed Protection Act, the House Natural Resources Committee in June of 2008 voted 20-2 to invoke a little-known provision of the Federal Land Management Policy Act requiring the interior secretary to enact a three-year emergency mineral withdrawal. The withdrawal affords the same protections from new uranium activity across the same acres set forth in Grijalva’s bill — but for a period of three years. In the fall of 2008, the Center challenged the Interior Department’s authorization of new uranium exploration in violation of the withdrawal.
PROPOSED MINING LIMITS AROUND THE GRAND CANYON
In 2009, the Obama administration enacted a two-year “segregation” — meaning, in this case, the prohibition of certain activities on a particular piece of land — that bars new mining claims and development of existing claims “for which valid rights have not been established” across 1 million acres of watershed around the Grand Canyon. The administration also initiated an environmental impact statement process to study extending that protection forward 20 years through the enactment of what’s called a “mineral withdrawal.” Together, these actions will go far toward preventing new uranium mines that would threaten the Grand Canyon and its springs, and they place a heavier legal burden on attempts by the uranium industry to reopen old mines. In 2011, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar extended protections for the canyon until the end of 2011.
But the Obama administration’s direction hasn’t stopped the Bureau of Land Management from allowing old mines to reopen illegally without updating antiquated environmental reviews. In 2009, the Center sued the Bureau for failing to undertake new environmental reviews for the Arizona 1 mine — which hadn’t been done since 1988 — seeking to halt the mine, and early the next year we sued the Bureau for refusing to disclose records relating to the Arizona 1 mine and other area uranium mines. When a court denied our request to halt Arizona 1, we appealed that ruling in summer 2010 — and we’ll continue to engage the Bureau in the National Environmental Policy Act review process and in the courts to ensure that maximum protections are enacted for the entire Grand Canyon.
6/20/2011 Center for Biological Diversity: 1 Million Acres of Grand Canyon Watershed Protected From Uranium Mining
Center for Biological Diversity June 20, 2011 For Immediate Release Contact: Randy Serraglio, (520) 784-1504 1 Million Acres of Grand Canyon Watershed Protected From Uranium Mining: GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— Interior Secretary Ken Salazar extended interim protections from uranium mining today for Grand Canyon’s 1-million-acre watershed through the end of 2011; the secretary also announced his support for a 20-year mineral withdrawal across the same area. Both protections ban new claims and block new mining on existing, unproven claims. The announcement quells fears that a two-year mining prohibition issued by Salazar in July 2009 would expire, opening the door to new mining claims and resulting mine development. Public lands around Grand Canyon National Park have been ground zero for new uranium mining that threatens to industrialize iconic wildlands and permanently pollute aquifers feeding Grand Canyons springs and streams.
“The world would never forgive the permanent pollution of Grand Canyon’s precious aquifers and springs or the industrialization of its surrounding wildlands,” said Randy Serraglio of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The only sure way to prevent pollution of the Grand Canyon is to prevent uranium mining, and today’s action makes important progress toward that goal.”
Salazar today directed the Bureau of Land Management to designate the withdrawal of the full 1-million-acre watershed from new mining claims as its preferred alternative in its ongoing environmental analysis of the issue, scheduled to be released in the fall.
“This is good news for the Grand Canyon, but we are disappointed that Secretary Salazar continues to show such enthusiasm for the mining of existing claims,” said Serraglio. “We hope the ‘caution, wisdom and science’ cited by the secretary as being so important in managing this precious area will lead to strong decisions to protect it from further pollution by uranium mining.”
Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon region. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation and proposed legislation. Scientists, tribal and local governments, and businesses have voiced opposition to new mining operations. Dozens of new mines threaten to industrialize stunning and often sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers feeding Grand Canyon’s biologically rich springs.
The segregation and withdrawal would prohibit new mining claims and mining on claims without “valid existing rights” to mine. Several claims within the withdrawal area that predate the 2009 segregation order will be grandfathered in; those are still vulnerable to mining.
In 2009 the Bureau of Land Management allowed mining to resume at the Arizona 1 mine within the withdrawal area and immediately north of Grand Canyon without first updating 1980s-era environmental reviews. The Havasupai Tribe, the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, the Center, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Trust challenged that mine’s reopening in federal court — one of four lawsuits brought by the Center relating to uranium mining in the region since 2008. That suit is ongoing.
“Grand Canyon and the surrounding areas are some of the most recognized and prized landscapes in the United States. Allowing further uranium mining would cause untold damage and leave future generations asking why we didn’t do more to stop it,” Serraglio said. “That’s why we’ll keep defending the Grand Canyon and working to reform the antiquated 1872 mining law so that federal agencies finally have clear authority to deny mining proposals that threaten irretrievable damage to our public lands.”
Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium PHOENIX, Ariz. – Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including 36 Arizona groups, have weighed in to support a federal proposal for a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon National Park. A public comment period has just ended. The Obama administration is expected to decide the issue in the next few weeks. Lynn Hamilton is the executive director of Grand Canyon River Guides, a nonprofit group of professional river guides and individuals who love the Grand Canyon. She warns that runoff from existing uranium mines has already polluted several rivers, creeks and springs within the national park. “It’s really alarming for people to feel like the areas that they’re visiting and recreating in, which they consider to be wilderness areas, are tainted in this way.”
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and 62 other members of Congress have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to approve the proposed 20-year moratorium. Several local governments and Native American tribal governments have also endorsed the proposed mining ban. The industry maintains that modern mining techniques prevent environmental damage.
Hamilton says Native Americans living in northern Arizona have been especially hard-hit by water pollution resulting from uranium mining.
“It’s really a deadly history. Many Native Americans have died from drinking tainted water or from using that water to sustain their livestock and crops when it’s contaminated.”
Hamilton also expresses concern about the potential effect on tourism from uranium mining claims that are “right on the doorstep” of the Grand Canyon.
“This is an area that draws 5 million visitors each year. It contributes almost $700 million annually to the regional economy.”
Grand Canyon tourism supports some 12,000 full-time jobs, she adds.