June 25 – As Senate leaders drag their feet on reform of the nation’s
136-year-old mining law, a House committee today considers whether to
exercise rarely used emergency powers to protect the Grand Canyon from
a surge in uranium mining claims near the canyon rim.
The House Natural Resources Committee will take up a resolution by
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) that would force Interior Sec. Dirk
Kempthorne to ban new mining claims on approximately 1 million acres
adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. The resolution, which would
have the force of law, would use the Federal Land Policy and Management
Act of 1976 to direct Kempthorne to withdraw the land from mining
Between January 2003 and January 2008, the number of claims within 5
miles of Grand Canyon National Park increased from 10 to more than
1,100, according to Bureau of Land Management data compiled by the
Environmental Working Group (EWG). Google maps of the claims are
available at www.ewg.org/reports/grandcanyon.
Most, if not all, of the claims are for uranium, sparked by a surge
in uranium prices linked to renewed interest in nuclear power. In
December 2007, the Forest Service issued a permit to a British company
to drill for uranium as close as 2 miles from the Park, citing the
government’s inability to prevent the action under the 1872 Mining Law.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Metropolitan Water District of
Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority have all
written to Kempthorne with concerns about the surge of claims near the
Canyon and the effect uranium mining might have on Colorado River
drinking water. The Colorado, which flows through the Canyon, provides
water for 25 million people including residents of Los Angeles, Las
Vegas, Phoenix and San Diego.
“This emergency action would help prevent uranium mining from
harming the Grand Canyon and polluting drinking water for millions,”
said Dusty Horwitt, Senior Public Lands Analyst at EWG. “The Senate
should stop stalling and reform the 1872 Mining Law so that all Western
public lands have full protection.”
A mining reform bill that would protect the Grand Canyon passed the
House in late 2007, but has been stalled in the Senate, where Majority
Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the nation’s leading mining state, is wary
of large-scale changes to the 1872 law. On Monday, three more
mining-state governors – Bill Richardson of New Mexico, Christine
Gregoire of Washington and Ted Kulongski of Oregon, all Democrats –
sent a letter to the leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee, saying the mining law was a relic of frontier-era
America and urging action.
Congress last invoked the Land Policy and Management Act in 1983,
when the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee required
then-Interior Sec. James Watt to block new coal leases on federal land
in Montana and North Dakota.
Watt refused to comply with the resolution and issued the leases,
but a federal court granted a preliminary injunction, forcing Watt to
abide by the committee’s action. The federal court found that
Interior’s own regulations mirrored the provision in the land
management act and the Department was bound to follow them. Those
regulations (43 CFR 2310.5) are still on the books.
The House resolution would not impact valid claims already staked;
companies could still mine these claims even if their activities might
threaten the Canyon or the Colorado River.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC
that uses the power of information to protect human health and the
CONTACT: EWG Public Affairs, (202) 667-6982
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 25, 2008