Hoping to find a more receptive U.S. Department of Interior, Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, has reintroduced legislation to withdraw mineral exploration on one million acres near the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Canyon Watershed Protection Act of 2009 will withdraw 628,886 acres in the Kanab Creek area, 112,655 acres in House Rock Valley managed by the Bureau of Land Management and 327,367 acres in the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the canyon.
In a statement Grijalva stressed Congress has a responsibility to protect the Grand Canyon. The federal government and mining companies should not propose new mining when they still have not adequately dealt with the cleanup of old uranium mine sites on tribal lands and other lands around Northern Arizona that are causing ongoing health problems.
Congress has been asleep at the wheel in failing to address this issue by reforming the out-dated mining law from the 19th century that still allows people to stake claims and mine without paying any fees for the minerals they extract or cleaning up the land after they've mined, Grijalva. Those of us supporting reform will try again this year to pass meaningful changes to the mining law. In the meantime, it's critical that this bill to protect the Grand Canyon move forward.
I look forward to working with the Obama Administration and Secretary of the Interior [Ken] Salazar and hope to convince them to utilize their authority to temporarily protect the canyon due to the emergency circumstances existing now, Grijalva said. In the meantime, I will work with Congress to consider this important legislation to permanently protect the canyon and its watersheds.
However, the Grand Canyon Watershed Protection Act will not impact existing claims where miners have proven they have viable deposits.
In a statement Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust claimed, Uranium mining poses one of the greater risks to Grand Canyon National Park in decades. It threatens to contaminate park waters with radioactive waste, poses public-health problems for local residents and downstream communities dependent upon the Colorado River, and endangers the park's unique ecosystems.
If enacted the legislation would override a rule change by former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that eliminated Congress' authority to enact emergency withdrawals under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA). The Bureau of Land Management argued that constitutional issues may arise whenever a Congressional Committee directs the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw lands immediately.
Taylor McKinnon, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, We're looking to Congress for permanent protections for the Grand Canyon. And we're looking to the Obama Administration to enact interim safeguards and repair Bush's regulatory gerrymandering.
It is estimated that mining and exploration companies have filed more than 10,600 exploration mineral claims across one million acres of federal public land adjacent to the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon National Park.
The BLM is still processing claims because the agency doesn't consider the moratorium enacted last June by the House Natural Resources Committee to be valid. If current Interior Secretary Ken Salazar chooses to implement the old emergency declaration, it would stop mining immediately for three years.
The new legislation introduced this month by Grijalva is enacted it would impose a permanent mining ban in the Grand Canyon's buffer zones.