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Patriots protect the Grand Canyon from uranium mining

An overlook of the Grand Canyon.  (Photo by Tim Brown/Courtesy Bureau of Reclamation)

An overlook of the Grand Canyon. (Photo by Tim Brown/Courtesy Bureau of Reclamation)

I served my country for 23 years in the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Teams and deployed all over the world. While I spent much of my time in war-torn regions, I also had the opportunity to see beautiful outdoor spaces like the Hindu Kush of Afghanistan, the jungles of Thailand, and the world’s highest active volcano in Ecuador, Cotopaxi. But regardless of where I was in the world, nowhere else compared to the natural treasures that are found here in my home state of Arizona.

At the age of 14, I hiked to Havasupai Falls at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I thought it was the prettiest place on earth. It is still the prettiest place I have ever seen.

Josh Butner

Josh Butner

Now, the Grand Canyon is under threat of permanent ecological devastation from uranium mining. Recently, U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouilette released a report that calls for opening federal lands for new uranium mining. Uranium-rich areas like the land surrounding the Grand Canyon are in the cross-hairs for future mining activity.

Like Teddy Roosevelt and other patriots before me, I fought to protect this country, and to me President Roosevelt, who established the Grand Canyon as a national monument, would demand this symbol of pride for our nation and all Arizonans would be off-limits to destructive activities like mineral mining. But the uranium industry has lobbied hard to have access to public lands. Now, it looks like they might get the opportunity. And U.S. Senator Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, has done nothing to stop them.

Since 2012, new uranium mining has been banned on the approximately 1 million acres of public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. The ban was instituted after a spike in uranium prices in 2007, which led to thousands of new mining claims on public lands around the Grand Canyon. Last year, U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, introduced a bill in the Senate – the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act (S-3127) – to make the ban permanent.

No matter what you think about nuclear energy, there are many good reasons not to mine uranium ore here, near our state’s crown jewel. For one, there’s already a long legacy of contamination from uranium mining in and around the Grand Canyon. Since the 1950s, pollution from mining activities has damaged the land, water, and air in the region. And it has caused devastation among the indigenous communities that have called the area home for hundreds of years. Mining in the area threatens the aquifer that feeds Havasu Creek, the only public water supply for the Havasupai people. We do not need to risk further damage to our land or our communities.

There are also far better places than the Grand Canyon to procure uranium, including from friendly countries like Canada and Australia. Domestically, less than 1% of the known, mineable uranium reserves are actually in the Grand Canyon region – and the ore located there is relatively low-grade. Furthermore, the ore is located in deep underground formations, making it more expensive to mine than deposits found elsewhere, closer to the surface. There are far cheaper and more reasonable places to mine the type of high-grade uranium needed to produce nuclear energy than the Grand Canyon.

Thankfully, a majority of Arizonans across party lines agree that new uranium mining should not be allowed on public lands. A study conducted earlier this year found that 77% of Arizonans oppose allowing new uranium mining claims near Grand Canyon National Park. Tribal leaders, elected officials, business leaders who rely on the tourism revenue generated by the Grand Canyon, and even candidates for public office like fellow veteran, former Navy Captain Mark Kelly, have been vocal in their opposition to new uranium mining. Kelly, a Democrat, is running for a chance to oppose Senator McSally in the November general election.

But Senator McSally has been noticeably mum on the issue. She has not made any comments about the Department of Energy’s new report, or voiced her opposition to new uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Arizonans deserve to know where our elected officials stand on this issue.

Real patriots stand up for the Grand Canyon. Arizonans and patriots need to demand Senator McSally support the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act and ban future uranium mining. Are you a patriot?

Josh Butner served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy SEAL program, retiring in 2011 after five combat tours. He can be reached at: joshbutner2004@yahoo.com

2 comments

  1. Excellent piece and I plan on voting for Mr. Kelly. We need all the protection of our federal public lands from the devastation caused by mining, gas and oil drilling and kick this administration out of the WH for good!. McSally is useless, she has to go if we are to protect all of public lands around this nation that are under great threat.

  2. makes you wonder what was going on during the lockdown and curfews in the Navajo nation. Hmmm.

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