Arizona has become ground zero for the ideological fight against public lands and national parks during the 2012 election. This is due to a combination of factors, including a Senate race featuring a former uranium industry lobbyist who has led the fight to mine around the Grand Canyon, a state ballot measure that would turn all federal public lands over to the state, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s energy plan that would make it easier to mine and drill on public lands.
First, the Grand Canyon has played an important role in the Arizona Senate race between Richard Carmona (D) and Jeff Flake (R). Flake has led the fight in Congress to roll back a ban on new uranium mining around the canyon, and at one point his efforts were referred to as “the Flake earmark for the mining industry.”
Just this past Saturday, Flake — who was once a lobbyist for an African uranium mine with ties to Iran — continued to attack the Grand Canyon, and referred to the lands around it as “prime mining lands” when he gave the weekly Republican address:
If Arizona is in any way a microcosm for regulatory overreaches — and I think it is — then it is no wonder that the economy is struggling. Whether it’s locking up prime mining lands in northern Arizona to responsible mining…there seems no end to the regulatory appetite of this administration.
The League of Conservation voters has been running ads against Flake on this very issue:
Additionally, Proposition 120 will be on Arizona’s ballot on November 6th. This measure would add language to the state constitution, giving Arizona “sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction” over natural resources within its boundaries including air, water, wildlife, and public lands (including the Grand Canyon). It would also, according to legislative analysis, “repeal Arizona’s disclaimer of all right and title to public lands within the state,” an action which one legal expert says is “almost certainly unconstitutional.”
As Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon further explained this morning:
The measure…is an outgrowth of the radical view of states’ rights that came en vouge with the Tea Party. Prop 120 touches on neo-nullificationism, a doctrine holding (erroneously) that states can exempt themselves from federal laws they don’t like, along with Tentherism, the judicial philosophy that much of the federal government’s activities undertaken over the past 100 years have been unconstitutional.
Interestingly, Proposition 120 was placed on the ballot by the Arizona legislature itself, which earlier this year passed ALEC-backed legislation that would turn millions of acres of public lands over to the state. But conservative Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill because of its “lack of certainty” during “difficult economic times.”
And the evidence seems to show that the state of Arizona would not be very effective at managing the Grand Canyon National Park and other American treasures—in fact, the legislature has diverted $81 million from state parks to try to close the budget deficit over the last four years.
Lastly, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s energy plan could prove disastrous for the Grand Canyon and other public lands across America. One of the key components of his plan is turning decisions about energy development on public lands over to the states. This is problematic because, as the New York Times put it, “state, as a rule, tend to be interested mainly in resource development.”
The Romney energy plan would mean that the state of Arizona would decide whether or not to permit uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Currently one uranium mine is operating on the edge of the Grand Canyon, just outside the park, and up to 11 more could be built. Rather than letting the American public have a say in these decisions about where and how to mine, the Romney energy plan would cede these important decisions to the states. Watch a short documentary about uranium mining around the Grand Canyon:
If Arizona’s ballot initiative passes, it will likely be tied up in the courts for years. But whatever happens in November, there is no doubt that the Grand Canyon and other public lands in Arizona and across the country face an unprecedented number of threats this election season.
Jessica is the Manager of Research and Outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.