by Jessica Goad, cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green
Today, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is scheduled to release a final determination to withdraw 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon from new mining claims for 20 years.
The Center for American Progress’ Public Lands Project praised the announcement, noting that it will protect access for all American families to enjoy one of this country’s greatest treasures, help provide more recreation and outdoor jobs in the conservation economy, and preserve a crucial water supply for much of the southwest.
To respond to the inevitable attacks from enemies of conservation in Congress, we outline the top five winners and losers of the decision:
1. The 25 million people who get their drinking water from the Colorado River
The Colorado River is the lifeblood for residents of the southwest. It is one of the most important rivers in the nation, providing drinking water to 25 million Americans. Uranium mining could contaminate this precious water source, the legacy of which is in the water contamination across Arizona and the southwest and is felt most acutely by Native American tribes. Water authorities in Arizona, California, and Nevada have stated that “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.”
2. American businesses
The outdoor recreation industry thrives on Americans’ ability to get outside. In Arizona alone, the outdoor recreation economy annually supports 82,000 jobs, generates almost $350 million in state tax revenue, and stimulates about $5 billion in retail sales and services. Businesses like rafting companies, outfitters, and gear manufacturers all benefit tremendously from the Grand Canyon’s unpolluted water, air, and landscapes. As Black Diamond Equipment CEO Peter Metcalf has stated, “The outdoor industry depends on public land so its consumers have a place to recreate using the products it sells.”
3. Arizona workers
Tourists spending money in and around the Grand Canyon create jobs. Headwaters Economics found that Grand Canyon National Park supported over 6,000 jobs in 2009 and those tourists spent more than $400 million. Arizonans feel the direct, indirect, and induced impacts of this spending in places like Tusayan and Flagstaff, but also more broadly through hotels, flights, rental cars, and other expenditures. As Sherry Henry, director of the Arizona Office of Tourism said, “No other Arizona industry produces the same economic impact to the Grand Canyon State than our travel and tourism industry.”
Hunters and anglers have been some of the most outspoken proponents of protecting the Grand Canyon from the industrialization that mining would bring. A letter from nine sportsmen groups in July 2011 noted that “Uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park is wholly unacceptable given the best science available and the potential impacts.” The Arizona Game and Fish Commission has endorsed the mineral withdrawal. With these 1 million acres protected from new mining claims, sportsmen will not lose access to this prime fish and wildlife habitat.
5. American families
The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most popular destinations. Almost 5 million people visit every year to take part in camping, hiking below the rim, viewing the sights from the window of a lodge, or otherwise taking in the canyon’s natural magnificence. By stopping excess uranium mining on 1 million acres, all Americans and future generations will have an opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon in its untarnished state.
1. International atomic interests
A number of different mining companies have expressed interest in the uranium deposits around the Grand Canyon, many of which are foreign or multinational. Examples are Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency; Denison Mining, partially owned by Korea’s state-owned electric utility; and Vane Minerals, a British company.
2. Reps. Jeff Flake, Paul Gosar, Trent Franks
Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Trent Franks (R-AZ) have taken the lead in relentlessly attempting to block Secretary Salazar’s temporary withdrawals and forcing the administration to open the Grand Canyon area to industrial development. Flake’s effort over the summer to attach a policy rider on a budget bill to tie the Interior Department’s hands was dubbed “the Flake earmark.” Flake has already received $12,000 in campaign contributions from mining interests for his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign.
3. National Mining Association
The National Mining Association is one of the largest natural resources trade and lobbying groups in the nation. In 2011 it spent $3,580,266 lobbying Congress on various issues, and its non-coal-focused PAC has already spent $78,000 in campaign contributions for the 2012 cycle ($70,500 of which went to Republicans). A spokesman from the group in June stated that Secretary Salazar’s 6-month withdrawal “sets a troublesome precedent.”
4. Scientist Karen Wenrich
Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee called a hearing in November 2011 to continue to push for uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. But it was revealed at the hearing by Grand Canyon champion Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) that the scientist whom they called to testify that there would be little impact from uranium mining on the Colorado River stood to make $225,000 from it. Securities and Exchange Commission filings show that Karen Wenrich, a retired United States Geological Survey scientist, entered into a deal to sell 61 uranium claims only if the mineral withdrawal did not go through.
5. Companies seeking to exploit the public’s treasures for corporate profits
Under the 1872 Mining Law, mining companies are not required to pay royalties to the public for the mineral resources that they extract. Not only are taxpayers not properly compensated for their natural resources, but they are frequently left to foot the bill for environmental cleanup. Congress must pass legislation such as Rep. Ed Markey’s H.R. 3446 to solve this problem. However, Secretary Salazar’s withdrawal will stop additional companies from profiting off this antiquated system while endangering a national treasure.
Jessica Goad is the Manager of Research and Outreach for American Progress’ Public Lands Project.