Endangered treasure?

Groups: Uranium boom a threat to Grand Canyon

By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau, Gallup Independent, JANUARY 23, 2008

WINDOW ROCK — Thousands of mining claims, mostly for uranium, have been staked in 12 Western states since 2003, resulting in a modern-day land rush that is encroaching on some of America’s greatest treasures including the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Arches, and Yosemite National Parks.

An Environmental Working Group analysis of U.S. Bureau of Land Management data from 2007 shows that active mining claims in 12 Western states increased more than 80 percent from January 2003 to July 2007.

“We found that as of July 2007 there were 815 mining claims within 5 miles of Grand Canyon National Park and most of those were for uranium,” Dusty Horwitt, senior analyst with EWG in Washington, said Tuesday. Of those, 805 had been staked since 2003.

“Most of the claims that have been staked around the Grand Canyon are for uranium, and that’s driven by the surge in prices for uranium which is, in turn, the result of renewed interest worldwide for nuclear power.”

Given the legacy of uranium mining in the West, this is cause for concern, he said. “There are a lot of contamination problems and cancer associated with uranium mining. The further concern is that a lot of this mining is governed by the 1872 mining law which was passed under President Ulysses S. Grant and has barely been updated since then.”

The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., will meet Thursday to discuss reforming the century old mining law.

Grand Canyon Trust Program Director David Gowdey said Tuesday that the Trust believes the current uranium boom potentially poses one of the greatest threats to Grand Canyon National Park in its history.

“Uranium development at the borders of the park threatens to contaminate park waters with radioactive waste, poses a public health problem for those downstream communities dependent upon Colorado River water, and disrupts the park’s unique ecosystems.”

Gowdey said the Trust is committed to working with Arizona’s congressional delegation and local communities to protect the Grand Canyon and preserve it for future generations.

In the four states surrounding the Navajo Nation, active mining claims have risen 239 percent in Colorado, 232 percent in Utah, 79 percent in Arizona, and 50 percent in New Mexico since 2003.

The total number of active mining claims increased from 207,540 in January 2003 to 376,493 in July 2007. Between September 2006 and May 2007 alone, companies and individuals staked more than 50,000 claims, according to BLM data.

“The BLM tracked uranium claims in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and they found that claims have jumped from an estimated 4,300 in Fiscal Year 2004 to more than 32,000 in Fiscal Year 2006,” Horwitt said.

Mining interests also have staked tens of thousands of claims for gold, copper and other metals, reflecting a worldwide demand for minerals.

Given current fears of a U.S. recession, Horwitt said, “Time and time again in the mining industry there has been a boom and bust cycle. We have seen again and again companies come in, start mining and then abandon the site, with huge cleanup costs attached to it.

“That’s another reason why it’s so important that the 1872 mining law is reformed — so the companies can’t do that.”

Another option is allowing mining to proceed under the current inadequate system, the EWG report said, citing plans by a Canadian company, Quaterra Resources, to drill exploratory holes for uranium just north of the Grand Canyon. The operation would include a helicopter pad to carry supplies in and out.

On Nov. 1, the House of Representatives passed its version of the mining law reform bill, authored by Rep. Nick Rahall.

EWG believes the royalty in the House bill is too small, he said. “It was going to be an 8 percent royalty on every mine on federal land, but it was changed to a 4 percent royalty on an existing mine and an 8 percent royalty on future mines.”

The bill would give communities the right to petition the federal government to place lands off limits from mining because of water quality or recreational values, Horwitt said, “and those communities would include Native American tribes.”

“The House bill does a lot of things that are quite positive, and we hope these things will be reflected in the Senate legislation,” he said.



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html