Today, I attended a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands. The subcommittee was considering four bills. Three of them had to do with establishing national monuments.
The fourth (HR 3155), ironically, had to do with opening up one million acres of lands surrounding the Grand Canyon to uranium mining. Obviously, EARTHWORKS opposes mining around the Grand Canyon and we encourage you to join us.
On June 20, Secretary Salazar chose to remove 1 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon from mining development for twenty years. This proposed withdrawal had been in the works for a couple years and underwent extensive study and public comment. A final decision on this withdrawal may occur as soon as the end of this month. HR 3155 would abruptly end the Administration’s decision-making process and instead open the door to an estimated thirty uranium mines in the area.
Just for some perspective, and out of a sense of fairness, let’s consider the arguments of the House majority. There are two: jobs and national security. If it weren’t for the Grand Canon nearby, this region of Arizona (known as the Arizona strip between the Colorado River and the Utah line) might otherwise have few job opportunities. But the tremendous tourist draw of the Grand Canyon provides a clean industry and stable job base forever. Mining also creates jobs, but usually fewer than tourism. And, these mining jobs are both temporary and increasingly lost to automation.
The national security/energy independence argument went out the window as soon as Ranking Member Raul Grijalva explained that a significant portion of the mining claims in this region are owned by a Russian company. But not just any Russian company. Several members of the House recently wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury about the Russian’s acquisition of this company. Their main concern is that the uranium taken from the Arizona strip might go to Syria or Iran.
The distinguished Ranking Member has his own bill that protects these lands from mining interests. I think ultimately he summed up this hearing best by reminding us that the real debate is not about a mining company. It’s not even about creating jobs or protecting national security. The issue here is really one of the value we place on our cultural, natural, and historic heritage. If we can mine near the Grand Canyon, then truly no place is sacred.