In 2003, there were a mere 100 mining claims in the million or so acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Now there are more than 8,500 – mostly for uranium – with more than 1,100 claims less than five miles from arguably America’s most iconic national park.
Late last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar received nearly 100,000 public comments supporting a permanent ban on new mining claims on the 1 million acres of national forest and Bureau of Land Management land surrounding the park.
And H.R. 644, floated by House National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona) and cosponsored by 40 House members — including Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) — would make permanent a temporary moratorium Salazar imposed in July.
The yellowcake rush mentality has in part been stoked by growing speculation the nuclear power industry will enjoy a resurgence as a carbon-free source of energy – a view supported by Colorado Sen. Mark Udall – but environmentalists warn the front end of nuclear power is a dirty business and that uranium mining should not be allowed near cherished national parks.
They also warn the Colorado River, over-apportioned from Colorado to California, would be endangered as a drinking water source for 25 million people downstream from the Grand Canyon. Locally, the upper Colorado is under stress from residential development and increasing energy production.
There’s a concurrent effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law, which allows claim-staking without royalties for hard-rock mining, often putting the burden of toxic cleanups on taxpayers.