Groups: Uranium boom a threat to Grand
By Kathy Helms, Diné Bureau,
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
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.