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Barring Congressional Action, National Park Protected From Uranium Mining

WASHINGTON – After a nearly four-year battle to safeguard the Grand Canyon, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today that the area surrounding the National Park would be protected from new mining for 20 years. Conservation organizations across the country applauded the Obama administration for taking action, while recognizing the important leadership role Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has played in protecting this national treasure.

“I congratulate the Obama administration for making the right decision and protecting this iconic area from the 30 uranium mines that could have been built without this ban,” said Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks. “Tourists come to Grand Canyon to see natural beauty, not polluted mine sites. Why mess with a good thing?”

The Grand Canyon is currently threatened by over 1000 uranium mining claims near its borders. This withdrawal will ban new claim staking in one million acres of National Forest land around the Grand Canyon.  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.

Despite these risks, uranium mining is ineffectively governed by a patchwork of laws, including partial regulation under the archaic 1872 Mining Law, an outdated statute that ignores modern public values and economic activities such as tourism or water in favor of mining, regarded as “the highest and best use” of federal land.

“This withdrawal demonstrates the overwhelming need to reform the antiquated 1872 Mining Law,” said Krill. “Heroic measures like Secretary Salazar’s decision should not be needed to protect a place as special as the Grand Canyon.”

After the House of Representatives passed emergency withdrawal measures to protect the area around the Canyon from mining in 2008, 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.

“This momentous decision illustrates that there are some places that are just too precious to put at risk for uranium mining pollution,” said Krill.

Though a provision exists in law that allows Congress to overturn the final decision for this withdrawal, it is unlikely a measure to do so would receive enough bipartisan support to pass.

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