By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Last week, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced plans to withdraw 1 million acres around Grand Canyon National Park from new mining claims for 20 years. After a two-year stakeholder involvement process, nearly 300,000 public comments were received on this proposal, 90 percent of which were in favor of the full withdrawal according to Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey. But that has only caused Republicans from both chambers to hurriedly introduce bills that would prevent the Department of the Interior from taking this action and throw open the areas to new mining.
One such bill is Congressman Trent Franks’ (R-AZ) Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011. This morning the House’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands held a hearing on the bill, and Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the subcommittee, downplayed the threat of mining near the Grand Canyon. He described the great distance between the Grand Canyon National Park and the new mining claims by stating that the administration’s decision to withdraw 1 million acres around it was:
As this map from the Pew Environment Group shows, mining claims have actually been staked right up against the border of the park. Indeed, exploratory mining on one claim just three miles from a lookout into the park began in 2008. Much closer than the 122 miles that separate Liberty Island and Marvin Gardens.
…something akin to saying that if there was a terrorist threat to the Statue of Liberty they would close down the boardwalk of Atlantic City.
Republicans have been on a warpath in their efforts to allow uranium and other mining around the Grand Canyon to continue. Indeed this is the third time a bill or amendment has been introduced in this Congress to achieve such a purpose — others are S. 1690 from Senator John McCain (R-Z) and a portion of the budget bill H.R. 1 inserted by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Because Flake proposed throwing open 1 million acres to mining companies on a budget bill, Rep. Jesse Jackson referred to that section of the bill as the “Flake earmark for the mining industry.” Flake has already accepted $47,750 from mining interests in the 2012 election cycle.
ThinkProgress reported last week that Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chairman of the subcommittee in charge of this bill, called the size of the area that would be mined under Frank’s bill “the size of the state of New Jersey” and that “whether we mine or not will have no impact on the Grand Canyon water or tourism that happens to be there.” In today’s hearing Flake called the administration’s decision to protect the Grand Canyon “regulatory overreach based on specious environmental concerns.”
Contamination and discarded waste from uranium mining in the Colorado River and surrounding areas has plagued the national park for years — the contaminated water leaking from the Orphan Mine Site on the South Rim of the canyon is just one example of the legacy of uranium mining. Additionally, in May, the representatives from water authorities in Arizona, California, and Nevada wrote to the committee saying “federal agencies with oversight over mineral exploration and mining operations in the Lower Colorado River Basin must use their authority to prevent any potential for deterioration of this critical water supply for millions of people.”