Grijalva Highlights Ongoing Environmental Troubles at Grand Canyon Mine as Evidence of Need to Continue Mining Moratorium
Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today highlighted ongoing environmental problems at the Canyon Mine near the south rim of Grand Canyon National Park as evidence that the 20-year moratorium on new mining claims in the region instituted by the Obama administration needs to be maintained. Calls to lift the moratorium have increased since the beginning of the Trump administration despite the fact that, according to Interior Department information, approximately 3,200 existing mining claims already exist inside the moratorium area that could be activated and mined at any time.
The moratorium was instituted in January 2012 and applies to approximately 1 million acres of federal land north and south of Grand Canyon National Park. Grijalva on Feb. 10 introduced H.R. 360 to establish the moratorium area as Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, which he has sought to do through legislation in each Congress since his first bill introduction in March 2008.
As Ron Dungan reported for USA Today on April 4:
Water levels at Canyon mine were so high at one point in March that the mine's operator had to spray water into the air to enhance evaporation and increase the amount of water it was hauling to its White Mesa uranium mill in Utah.
[. . .]
Officials downplay concern about polluted water escaping the site, less than 10 miles from parts of the South Rim, where samples taken at the mine's holding pond recently tested at 130 parts of dissolved uranium per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency considers anything above 30 parts per billion to be unsafe to drink.
The moratorium was established after years of scientific analysis, local consultation and public comment that opponents frequently dismiss or ignore. The moratorium is based largely on the threat to water quality, including to wells, seeps and springs throughout the Grand Canyon watershed. The record of decision announcing the withdrawal specifically cites the need “to protect the Grand Canyon Watershed from adverse effects of locatable mineral exploration and development.”
Despite these risks, some Northern Arizona voices are calling for the moratorium to be lifted, according to the Havasu News.
“Mining interests oppose the moratorium because they haven’t read the scientific record,” Grijalva said today. “Weakening environmental laws near the Grand Canyon is not the ticket to prosperity. Forty million people rely on water from the Grand Canyon watershed every day. Do we really need to debate putting their health at risk so we can mine more uranium near a national park?”
The health impacts of uranium mining in the region continue to be felt, especially in Navajo communities in Northern Arizona. An April 2016 segment from National Public Radio titled, “For The Navajo Nation, Uranium Mining’s Deadly Legacy Lingers” revealed the ongoing costs of uranium development:
Many Navajo people have died of kidney failure and cancer, conditions linked to uranium contamination. And new research from the CDC shows uranium in babies born now. [. . .] One of the study's findings: 27 percent of the participants have high levels of uranium in their urine, compared to 5 percent of the U.S. population as a whole. [. . .] Cancer rates doubled in the Navajo Nation from the 1970s to the 1990s.
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