Members of the House and Senate from Utah and Arizona introduced legislation today in an attempt to stop the Obama administration from withdrawing 1 million acres of national forests around the Grand Canyon from mining. Without the withdrawal, the lands around the Canyon are under threat from 30 uranium mines. The withdrawal is widely supported, with 300,000 members of the public commenting in support of the ban.
Uranium mining is governed by a patchwork of federal and state laws, including partial regulation under the 1872 Mining Law, an archaic statute that considers mining to be the highest and best use of the federal land. Uranium mines pose threats to public health and water from radioactive wastes, and can have serious impacts on sensitive ecosystems. Given the importance of the Colorado River and the drinking water it provides to millions, uranium mining in the area is too much of a risk.
Congressional sponsors of the legislation once again pit jobs against the environment in their press statement announcing the bill introductions. While mining does create jobs, those jobs are only available as long as the mine is open, which is predicted to be about 7 years on average for each mine. The jobs created by recreation opportunities around the Canyon, which tops 6,000 according to recent studies, are sustainable jobs that will be there long after any mines are closed.
Temporary gains are not enough to justify tainting the land, air or water around one of our most treasured landscapes. Earthworks and our partners will be working to make sure this ill-conceived legislation never becomes law, and the Grand Canyon remains as pristine as it is today.