Today I sat in an auditorium in the National Geographic building here in DC and watched Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar sign an administrative withdrawal to protect over 1 million acres of public lands around the Grand Canyon from new mining for 20 years. This action is the culmination of nearly 4 years of effort by a broad coalition to protect this sensitive ecosystem from uranium mining.
This saga all began in 2008, when mining claims around the Grand Canyon started to multiply, mostly for uranium mining. The Grand Canyon is currently threatened by over 1000 uranium mining claims near its borders. Uranium mining can harm soil, ground and surface water. It also leaves radioactive wastes that last for years — wastes that can and have made people sick.
The then-Democratically controlled House of Representatives was the first to take action. Led by Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the House Natural Resources Committee passed emergency withdrawal measures to protect the area around the Canyon from mining. When President Obama took office in 2009, the Department of Interior (DoI) created a two-year moratorium on mining around the Grand Canyon, supported by 100,000 public comments. Last year, DoI received nearly 300,000 comments in favor of the 1 million acre withdrawal.
Today, conservation won out over the influence of special interests. Future generations will thank this administration for putting short-term thinking aside to protect one of our most important national treasures.