Stop seeing the Grand Canyon as potential strip mine

For all its grandeur, some people see the Grand Canyon as a potential strip mine. Unfortunately, a new report from the Trump administration just opened the door to new uranium mining in the region — and raised questions about who’s really making federal environmental policy. Since January of 2012, approximately 1 million acres of federal land outside Grand Canyon National Park have been protected by a moratorium on new uranium mining claims. The policy was created after a public outreach process by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and more than two years of evaluation by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and several other agencies.

As the document announcing the policy — known as a Record of Decision — points out, “millions of people living in seven states depend on the Colorado River for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use.” The agencies recommended a moratorium to gather more information on environmental risks from uranium mining.

The document found that “it is likely that the potential impacts [of uranium mining] to tribal resources could not be mitigated. Any mining within the sacred and traditional places of tribal peoples may degrade the values of those lands to the tribes that use them.” Native American communities like the Havasupai rely exclusively on water from seeps and springs in the area and would be devastated if uranium contamination spread to those sources.

You won’t hear that from industry cheerleaders, who have been selling the same vision of the Grand Canyon for years: Just open more uranium mines and we’ll create more jobs than tourism, provide the country with abundant energy and make everyone rich. It’s exactly the kind of superficial pitch Donald Trump would fall for — and now he’s trying to put the Grand Canyon in the hands of these charlatans.

A new U.S. Forest Service report, demanded by President Trump, on federal “obstacles” to energy production recommended canceling the moratorium despite its being scheduled to last until 2032. Never mind that more than 3,000 existing claims for uranium mining still exist inside the moratorium area. The companies holding those claims could start operations any time. If there’s a jobs boom waiting to happen, what are they waiting for? They can’t blame red tape — they already own the mineral rights.

Rather than studying the price of uranium or the failures of the U.S. nuclear power market, Trump is repeating the industry’s paper-thin excuses about “bureaucrats.” Republicans in Washington are wrong to help this cause.

We can do better.

Since 2008 I’ve been gathering support for my bill to establish Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument, which would protect the region and establish a permanent moratorium. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, the National Congress of American Indians and a coalition including the Havasupai, Hualapai, Hopi, Colorado River Indian Tribes, and the administration of Navajo Nation President Russell Begay have all endorsed it.

The Republican chairman of the Natural Resources Committee won’t give the bill a hearing. The fate of the Grand Canyon hangs in the balance, and the voices that claim to be all about reason and hard-nosed economics won’t even have a real debate.

Democrat Raúl M. Grijalva represents southwestern Arizona and portions of Tucson in Congressional District 3. Email him at grijalva.house.gov/connect-with-raul/; On Twitter, @RepRaul Grijalva.

By:  Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.)
Source: The Arizona Republic