Fun with Uranium: coming soon to a national park near you

Nothing says Wild West, summer road-trip, vacation with the kids quite like dipping a gold pan in a chilly Rocky Mountain stream, taking a burro ride along a dusty mining trail, or sifting for fool’s gold in a sluice box. But a new twist this summer could be rollicking in the yellow-cake uranium at one of eight new claims near the Grand Canyon.

Or how about zip lines between gas rigs in your favorite National Forest roadless area in Colorado? With families staying closer to home and exploring nature’s wonders during the Great Recession — and giving the Heisman (i.e., the stiff arm) to the cruises and theme park visits of more affluent times — the opportunities to Disney-fy the wilderness around energy exploration are virtually limitless.

Even as the National Park Service this week was reminding summer vacationers of our nation’s outdoor bounty, the Pew Environment Group was reminding Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of the energy-industry threats to that bounty. The nonprofit group fired off a letter requesting Salazar remove 1 million acres of public lands from consideration for new mining claims under the — do we have to even note that it’s “antiquated”? — 1872 Mining Law..

The chairs of both the House and Senate natural resources committees have introduced bills this session aimed at reforming the law, which was originally signed by Ulysses S. Grant to encourage pioneers to head west with pickaxes in hand.

Pew has also joined a long list of environmental groups pushing for a development moratorium on more than 54 million acres of National Forest roadless areas nationwide and a return to the Clinton administration’s roadless rule, first implemented in 2001 but quickly tossed out by the Bush administration. The return to the Clinton rule would block roads for new energy exploration and production on more than 4.4 million acres in Colorado.

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