By Jessica Goad, manager of research and outreach, Public Lands Project, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Republicans on the House Interior and Environment Appropriations subcommittee just released a spending bill they will debate tomorrow and next Tuesday. Along with a handful of nasty riders that ThinkProgress has explained in more detail, the GOP included a new provision (Sec. 445) that would prevent the Secretary of the Interior from withdrawing 1 million acres from mineral development around the canyon. This policy proposal does not address spending in any way:
SEC. 445. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, none of the approximately 1,010,776 acres of public lands and National Forest System lands described in Public Land Order No. 7773; Emergency Withdrawal of Public and National Forest System Lands, Coconino and Mohave Counties; AZ (76 Fed. Reg. 37826) may be withdrawn from location and entry under the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. 22 et seq.) except as expressly authorized by a law enacted after the date of enactment of this Act that refers to this section.
Instead, this action is in response to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s announcement three weeks ago that the Interior Department would withdraw lands around the canyon from uranium and other mineral mining for six months while an environmental study is finalized. The announcement came after 300,000 comments were submitted by the public, many of which requested that the government protect the Grand Canyon from the recent mining boom. The rush to develop minerals under the outdated 1872 Mining Law has intensified over the last few years, and the New York Times reported that between 2005 and 2008, more than 1,000 uranium claims were staked in just one national forest adjacent to the national park.
The Grand Canyon provides an incredible place for recreation, and the Colorado River that runs through the national park provides drinking water to 25 million Americans. It is estimated by Headwaters Economics that in 2009, Grand Canyon National Park created $411 million and over 6,000 jobs in the region.
Immediately after Salazar’s decision, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) threatened to use the appropriations process to stymie the withdrawal. As a member of the subcommittee that wrote this bill, it seems obvious that he was successful. This is just the latest attempt by conservative lawmakers to trade our parks for corporate profits. Flake received contributions from a multi-national mining company in the last election cycle. Additionally, he has been endorsed by the pro-industry, right-wing Club for Growth and FreedomWorks in his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2012.