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Feds' analysis of uranium mining near Grand Canyon relies on industry consultant who could cash in on claims


Washington, D.C., June 13 — The Obama administration s imminent decision on the future of uranium mining near the Grand Canyon could be swayed by the analysis of a mining industry consultant who stands to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars if the moratorium on new uranium claims is lifted, according to a new report from Earthworks and the Environmental Working Group.

In February, the Bureau of Land Management released a study of the options for lifting the moratorium on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres surrounding the Canyon. The study gave short shrift to the risk that radioactive mine waste could contaminate the Colorado River, which flows through the Canyon. That analysis relied heavily on a paper by the consultant, Karen Wenrich, of Golden, Colo.

But just three days before release of the BLM study, an Arizona uranium mining company completed a deal, later filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, disclosing a contract to pay Wenrich $225,000 for 61 mining claims if the moratorium is lifted. Records show Wenrich staked the claims in the million-acre area around the Canyon in 2007 and 2008. These existing claims are not invalidated by the moratorium but could be more easily developed if it is lifted.

“Consultants who stand to gain financially from uranium mining should be excluded from the process of deciding where and how much uranium mining occurs, plain and simple,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks. Any analysis of mining's potential impacts on the Grand Canyon and the surrounding watershed needs to be unbiased.

It would be hard to imagine a more brazen conflict of interest, said EWG Senior Counsel Dusty Horwitt. The Interior Department should rely on objective researchers, not industry consultants who stand to benefit directly from the department s decisions.

The Lower Colorado Water Partnership wrote the Bureau of Land Management, expressing concerns about possible mining-related risks to the river, which supplies drinking water to about 26 million Americans.