In January 2012, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that his department would protect one million acres of federal lands around Grand Canyon National Park by banning the area from new uranium mine claims and other hard rock mine claims for the next 20 years. Secretary Salazar took this step after a two-year temporary ban during which time the department held hearings, conducted an extensive analysis, and released an environmental impact statement. Salazar called the ban "the right approach" to preserving the fragile watershed.
NPCA has been fighting the persistent threat of uranium mining in the region for years and applauds the decision as a great victory for the park system. The ban will not only preserve the integrity and incredible views surrounding the park, but it will prevent mining operations from contaminating the Colorado River, which would have put 25 million people at risk—in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and elsewhere—who depend on this water for drinking, agriculture, and recreation.
Without the ban, the outdated 1872 mining law would have allowed any corporation to make a claim on federal lands without a competitive bid, develop it, and extract resources while paying no royalties.
The uranium boom of the 1950s and 1960s left a toxic and expensive legacy in the Southwest. Upstream from the Grand Canyon, the bankrupt Atlas Uranium Mill along the Colorado River in Utah is costing taxpayers nearly a billion dollars to clean up. On the nearby Navajo Nation, communities still suffer from increased disease caused by radioactive dust from unreclaimed uranium tailing piles and polluted drinking water. The Navajo banned all uranium mining on their lands in 2005, and the Navajo, Havasupai, Hopi, and other Native American tribes with strong cultural ties to the Grand Canyon all oppose uranium mining near the park. In the park itself, along the South Rim just a mile west of the historic El Tovar lodge lies the desert Orphan Mine, which has contaminated Horn Creek below so that visitors are warned against drinking its radioactive water. Taxpayer money is also being used to clean up this danger mine site.
You can take action by thanking Secretary Salazar for his decision to ban new uranium mine claims around the Grand Canyon. Join nearly 300,000 people who have already spoken out to protect the park's fragile water resources and its millions of water users downstream.
- Learn more about NPCA's efforts to prevent mining and fracking in and around national parks.
- Learn more about NPCA's Southwest Regional Office.