On Oct. 19, Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposed passing a bill that would expose one million acres of Grand Canyon National Park to uranium mining, reported Summit County Citizen's Voice.
In an ongoing barrage against the Obama administration's public land policies, and a continuous blatant disregard for the environment on the part of the GOP, the bill would overturn an existing moratorium on new mining in this area. It would also block a proposal by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to extend protection of the area for another 20 years, according to a press release by the Environmental News Network. The ban is expected to be decided on in December.
Salazar's call for extension of making this land mine-free has been widely supported by scientists, businesses, and hunting and fishing organizations. Their discontent with uranium mining is not unreasonable.
In addition to spreading pollution, uranium mining is also largely seen as a jobs killer.
Paul Hedger, president of the Arizona Association of Bed & Breakfast Inns said, "Thousands of American jobs depend on tourism to the Grand Canyon. Why would we risk those jobs?"
The Grand Canyon produces over $700 million per year in economic activity, reported the Grand Canyon Trust. It currently provides some 8,000 direct jobs.
Roger Clark, an air and energy program director at Grand Canyon Trust noted, "We are disappointed in this jobs-killing legislation. Uranium mining threatens thousands of tourism-related jobs in northern Arizona." He added that Salazar "has found the right balance between protecting the Grand Canyon and the $700 million tourism industry, while leaving promising mining areas [that are] further from the national park open to exploration and mining."
Perhaps some of Salazar's most vocal allies are Native Americans. Tribes in the region, including Hopi, Navajo, and Hualapai, have banned uranium mining on their lands. Again, their argument against the practice is quite logical, against pollution based on lingering contamination from mining in the past.
Water in nearby Horn Creek (located below the Orphan uranium mine), has been found to contain dissolved uranium concentrations more than 10 times what is considered healthy for drinking water by the EPA. And just north of the Grand Canyon, groundwater beneath mines contains uranium levels 1,000 times what is considered safe.
Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter recently stated, "It is unconscionable that Senator McCain and [other Republicans] are seeking to undermine protections for Grand Canyon and its watershed, and showing so little regard for the people of Arizona, including all of those who expressed strong support for protecting these lands from uranium mining and the pollution it produces."
And while naysayers would remind one that strong contamination is only a possibility, the general consensus seems to be that it is a risk not worth taking.
"Neither mining corporations, nor lawmakers, nor public agencies can guarantee that uranium mining wouldn't further contaminate aquifers feeding Grand Canyon's creeks and springs," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Such pollution - the kind we see in Horn Creek today - would be impossible to clean up."
McKinnon concluded, "A decade ago, Senator McCain was a defender of the Grand Canyon. Today, he's one of its greatest threats."
Photo: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar speaks at Grand Canyon on the ban on uranium mining. Richard Mayol/Grand Canyon Trust.