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Public Lands:
state lands; mining; exploration

Our Position: oppose
Bill Number: SCM1007
Sponsor: Melvin
Legislative Session: 2011 Legislative Session

SCM1007 state lands; mining; exploration (Melvin) is a memorial that asks the Secretary of the Department of Interior to “. . . refrain from withdrawing Arizona lands from new mining claims and exploration.”  It asks, “That the Bureau of Land Management and the United States Forest Service not limit the public’s access to public lands under their jurisdiction for mining, grazing, recreation or other uses.” 

We do not need more trashed public lands, polluted ground and surface water, and a big mess for the public to clean up.

Status

Thank you to 29 legislators for signing on to a letter in support of the mineral withdrawal and for not supporting this memorial.

Action Needed

 

To find contact information for your representatives, click on Arizona House.

Background

While we recognize it is only a “postcard” and does not affect the law, it is a truly bad message to send.  The memorial is disrespectful of the many local and tribal entities – City of Flagstaff; Coconino County; Navajo Nation; Hopi, Kaibab-Paiute, Hualapai, and Havasupai tribes; National Congress of American Indians – that have been working to protect the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining.  Below is some background information that we hope you will consider.

The Greater Grand Canyon Ecoregion

The Greater Grand Canyon Ecoregion is a wild and remote landscape that includes two Bureau of Land Management national monuments (Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Canyon-Parashant), two national forests (Coconino and Kaibab), numerous wilderness areas, and the crown jewel of our national park system: Grand Canyon National Park. These lands provide important connections among habitats and critical corridors for wildlife movement. Key species include the desert tortoise, the endangered California condor, the northern goshawk, and the Kaibab squirrel, a species found nowhere else.

In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established a Grand Canyon National Game Preserve that included the forests north and south of the Canyon, where he saw incredible wildlife diversity.  Today, the plateaus surrounding the Grand Canyon support almost 100 plant and animal species of concern1 and the largest tracts of old growth ponderosa pine forest in Arizona.   

Uranium mining in the Greater Grand Canyon Ecoregion

These lands also contain over 3000 uranium mine claims2, one mine that is currently operating based on twenty-year-old information, and three more mines that are seeking permits to operate. Interior Secretary Salazar proposed withdrawing one million acres around the Grand Canyon from mining for 20 years, the maximum allowed under an administrative withdrawal.  Withdrawing these lands from future mining activity is key to ensuring their resiliency in light of climate change and protecting the water and watershed that supports people and wildlife alike.

 

Uranium Mining Threatens Downstream Water Sources for People and Wildlife

·         Exposing uranium ore to air causes it to oxidize, which makes it highly soluble in water.3  Once it reaches groundwater, we have no effective way to remove contamination as it spreads toward seeps and springs that support wildlife and recreation. 

·         Uranium acts as a heavy metal and a hormone when ingested, even at levels lower than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) legal limit, inhibiting reproduction and causing birth defects.4

·         The Little Colorado River, Horn Creek, and Kanab Creek in Grand Canyon are already deemed unsuitable for “drinking and bathing”.5  

·         A catastrophic accident, such as the Church Rock Mine disaster of 1979 (which released more radiation than any other single incident besides Chernobyl, and still renders waters of the Puerco River unsafe)3, could contaminate the drinking water of tens of millions of Americans – hence, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Southern Nevada Water Authority support withdrawing land around the Grand Canyon from mining.

·         Flash flooding is common in the watersheds surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.  In 1984, a flash flood released tons of tailings from Hack Canyon Mine into Kanab Creek, north of the Canyon.  The area is still littered with radioactive waste, and water in the drainage is undrinkable.6

 

Is uranium mining near Grand Canyon worth the risk?

·         Grand Canyon tourism brings $687 million a year to Northern Arizona.7 

·         The average Canyon visitor spends $595 per travel party outside, but within 90 miles of, Grand Canyon National Park.7

·         Grand Canyon supports 12,000 full-time equivalent jobs regionally.8 

·         Seventy percent of Flagstaff’s tourists visit Grand Canyon National Park.7 

·         An accident will likely generate national, and potentially international, news due to the geographic proximity to Grand Canyon National Park and great interest in the issue (81,720 individuals commented on the temporary withdrawal9)

·         The Bureau of Land Management acknowledges that mining in the area proposed for withdrawal will create toxic hazards, contamination, road impacts, ore truck traffic impacts, and a need for dust mitigation.9 

 

Uranium mining has left a legacy of health impairment on Arizonans

·         Gamma radiation rates along public highways and roads are significantly elevated 25 years after uranium mining ceased in the areas. 3 

·         Numerous water sources on the Navajo Nation have been designated unsafe to drink due to contamination from uranium mining.

·         The number of mines in a Reservation community predicts the prevalence of kidney disease, diabetes (above the already elevated diabetes rate on the Navajo Reservation), high blood pressure, and certain auto-immune diseases.3 

·         Uranium acts as a hormone mimic, even at levels lower than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for drinking water. 4 

·         The incidence of birth defects is statistically correlated to a mother’s proximity to uranium tailings.4

Ninety-nine percent of Canyon-area claims were established in the last 7 years.2

·         Mining companies claim that modern operations will be safer, more careful, and cleaner.  Yet, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has issued 80 plus safety citations to Denison at two mines (Arizona 1, AZ and Pandora Mine, UT) since 2009.6 

·         EPA cited Denison Mines Corporation, which has been extracting uranium from the Arizona 1 mine since December 2009, for violating the Clean Air Act by commencing operations without receiving EPA approval of their radon ventilation system and refusing to monitor emissions in an EPA-approved manner.10 

·         Arizona 1, which sat idle for 20 years in an extremely remote location just north of the Grand Canyon, was allowed to open without an updated environmental review or operating plan.            

Mining Destroys Solitude and Wildlife Habitat

·         Thousands of mines could potentially create a landscape dotted with mining activities, ore-hauling trucks, and swaths of bare ground.

·         The National Park Service predicts that land clearing and road building for 93 mines in ponderosa pine forests south of the Canyon will kill approximately 14,600 birds.  Development of all 921 mines in the Great Basin Conifer Woodland ecotype will erase 75 km2 of habitat and destroy 75,000 birds.11

Citations:

1 USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2010-5025.  Hydrological, Geological, and Biological Site Characterization of Breccia Pipe Uranium Deposits in Northern Arizona.  Edited by Andrea E. Alpine.  Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2010/5025/, accessed Oct. 6, 2010.

2 Estimates vary; U.S.D.O.I. report cited below(9) says 3766 claims within 2237 sites inside the withdraw area; testimony by Roger Clark of Grand Canyon Trust to the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee Hearing on the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2008 (H.R. 5583) on June 5, 2008 said 3000 uranium claims are “within a few miles of Grand Canyon National Park” and that the Kaibab National Forest reported over 2100 claims within the Tusayan Ranger District alone filed that year;  the BLM reported that over 5000 mining claims had been made between 2004-2007 in Arizona(Uranium Mining and Activities, Past and Present: Update for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Commission, May, 2007, available at http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/documents/gc_agfUraniumUpdate.pdf, accessed October 6, 2011);  the BLM scoping report cited below (13) says 8300 existing mining claims exist; an Associated Press article says 10,000 near the Grand Canyon for all types of hard-rock mining, and 1100 uranium claims within 5 miles of Grand Canyon National Park (http://ktar.com/?nid=6&sid=1282223, accessed Oct. 6, 2010); the Grand Canyon Trust says there are over 1100 uranium claims within 5 miles of the Park, while there were only 10 in January, 2003 (http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/grand-canyon/uranium_issues.php, accessed October 4, 2011).

3 Statement of Chris Shuey before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, Natural Resources Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, March 28, 2008. 

4 Whish, S.R., et al.  2007.  Uranium below the U.S. EPA Water Standard Causes Estrogen Receptor-Dependent Responses in Female Mice.  Environmental Health Perspectives, 115, and citations within.

5 Grand Canyon Trust “Grand Canyon Issues” website: “Radioactive Residues from our Nation’s Nuclear Policies have been Accumulating In and Around Grand Canyon for more than Five Decades”.  Available at http://www.grandcanyontrust.org/grand-canyon/uranium_issues.php, accessed Oct 4, 2011.

6 Center for Biological Diversity press release.  “Appeal Filed in Lawsuit to Protect Grand Canyon From Uranium Mining”, June 12, 2010.  Available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2010/grand-canyon-07-12-2010.html, accessed Oct. 4, 2010.

7  Flagstaff Tourism Survey.  Prepared for the Arizona Office of Tourism, Arizona Hospitality Research and Resource Center, Arizona Hospitality Research and Resource Center, by the Center for Business Outreach, The W.A. Franke College of Business, Northern Arizona University, April 2009.  Available at http://www.azot.gov/documents/Flagstaff_Visitor_Report_Revised_Final_5_26_09.pdf, accessed Oct 4, 2010.

8 Executive Summary, Grand Canyon National Park & Northern Arizona Tourism Study.  Prepared by Northern Arizona University School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, 2005.  Available at http://www.nau.edu/hrm/ahrrc/reports/G_C_EXEC_SUMMARY.pdf, accessed Oct. 6, 2010.

9 Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Environmental Impact Statement Scoping Report.  Prepared by U.S. Dept. of the Interior BLM Arizona Strip District.  March, 2010.  Available at http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/az/pdfs/withdraw.Par.75987.File.dat/Scoping-Report.pdf, accessed Oct. 6, 2010.

10 United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Docket No. R9-10-08 Finding and Notice of Violation

11 U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.  Potential Impacts of Uranium Mining on the Wildlife Resource of Grand Canyon National Park.  January, 2010.  Available at http://grandcanyontrust.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/uranium-uranium-nps_wildlife_report-final-jan-2010.pdf, accessed October 4, 2010.

 

     
     

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