Last Monday, June 20, the federal government extended for six months a moratorium on new uranium mining claims in a million-acre buffer zone around the Grand Canyon as it awaits the conclusions of a study of potential environmental harm to the region.
As first reported in The New York Times, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that expanded uranium mining around the canyon could threaten water supplies, air quality, wildlife, desert vegetation and priceless scenery. Once lost, Mr. Salazar said, those assets can never be reclaimed.
Extending The Moratorium For Six Months
However, he also said that he was not yet ready to declare the area off limits to new mining claims for the next 20 years, as many local and state officials and environmental advocates have demanded. He said in a briefing at the Grand Canyon that a 20-year moratorium was his preferred solution but that more scientific study was needed.
This is a partial victory for environmentalists, many of whom are questioning the Obama administration’s allegiance to conservation. As Care2 reported, many of us were extremely unhappy on June 1, when Mr. Salazar reversed his own policy that would have set aside millions of federally owned acres as wilderness protected forever from energy exploration.
Existing Claims Will Be Honored
From The New York Times:
Mr. Salazar said that the relatively small number of existing mining claims around the canyon would be honored but that he was leaning strongly against allowing any new activity. He said he would make a final decision after an environmental impact statement was completed by the government this year.
“This alternative, if ultimately selected,” he said, “would ensure that all public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park are protected from new hard-rock mining claims, all of which are in the watershed of the Grand Canyon.”
In 2009, Mr. Salazar placed a two-year moratorium on new uranium mining claims on a million acres of public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon, overturning a Bush administration policy that encouraged thousands of new claims when the price of uranium soared in 2006 and 2007.
More Than 3,000 Uranium Mining Claims Near The Grand Canyon
According to The Sierra Club, there are more than 3,000 uranium mining claims in the plateaus surrounding the Grand Canyon. Development of these claims would industrialize regionally sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers feeding the Grand Canyon’s biologically rich springs.
Today’s announcement follows efforts by Congressman Grijalva (D-AZ), scientists, tribal and local government leaders, businesses and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens to secure protections for the region and its waters. The Colorado River watershed provides water to millions of acres of farmland and people throughout the Southwest living in southern California, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson.
Protect The Spectacular Grand Canyon
But even more than that, the Grand Canyon is spectacularly beautiful, and the idea of spoiling that beauty for the sake of making a few bucks (or even a lot of bucks) is simply abhorrent. Let’s hope the 6-month moratorium is extended forever, or at least for the next 20 years.
Editor’s note: A big thank you goes out to the 29,642 Care2 members who signed the petition asking to extend the moratorium on mining. Thanks for letting President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar know that the Grand Canyon is important!
Photo Credit: YoTuT via Creative Commons