New Mining Claims Banned Near the Grand Canyon

For the next two decades there will be no new uranium mining claims on public lands around the Grand Canyon National Park, a move that will protect more than one million acres, the Obama administration announced yesterday.

“People from all over the country and around the world come to visit the Grand Canyon,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement. “Numerous American Indian tribes regard this magnificent icon as a sacred place and millions of people in the Colorado River Basin depend on the river for drinking water, irrigation, industrial and environmental use. We have been entrusted to care for and protect our precious environmental and cultural resources, and we have chosen a responsible path that makes sense for this and future generations.”

Mining for uranium can result in the mineral dissolving and moving through groundwater, potentially ending up in seeps and springs.

Twenty years is the longest period of time that the administration can ban new claims, significant because the demand for the mineral used in nuclear power reactors has increased in recent years.

“As recently as 2002, U.S. uranium mining was dormant, stalled by a glut on the world market,” Jennifer Weeks wrote for Audubon in our March-April 2009 issue. “Then utilities began worrying about depleting their stockpiles and started buying uranium, driving the cost of the toxic heavy metal from $10 to as high as $138 per pound in 2007. The high prices spurred thousands of new mining claims in western states, among them more than 1,100 within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park.

In 2005 there were fewer than 1,000 mining claims on public lands around the Grand Canyon compared to more than 8,000 in 2009, Reuters reported.

Although existing mining operations will continue, a number of environmental organizations commended the administration for the action. "One of the things President (Barack) Obama's going to be remembered for is protecting the Grand Canyon," Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group, a non-profit organization that has pushed for the mining moratorium, told Reuters.

"Despite considerable pushback from the industry and even some in Congress, he didn't punt and he didn't blink," she went on to say.

The decision was one that showed a greener tinge of the Obama administration, which goes beautifully with the pinks, oranges, and yes, even yellows of the South Rim at sunset. 

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