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Congress has opportunity to protect Grand Canyon region

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)

The Grand Canyon Protection Act was recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Raύl Grijalva and passed in the House and has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. The bills will permanently protect about 1 million acres of public lands surrounding Grand Canyon from the harmful and lasting damage of new uranium mining.

Sandy Bahr

Sandy Bahr

Arizona Faith Network; Arizona Trail Association; Arizona Wildlife Federation; Center for Biological Diversity; Chispa Arizona; EarthJustice; Earthworks; Environment America; Grand Canyon Trust; Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors; League of Conservation Voters; Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper; National Parks Conservation Association; National Trust for Historic Preservation; Northern Minnesotans for Wilderness; Sierra Club – Grand Canyon Chapter; Get Outdoors Arizona; The Rewilding Institute; The Wilderness Society; Trout Unlimited; Uranium Watch; Western Native Voice; and Wild Arizona all support the Grand Canyon Protection Act and urge the U.S Congress to pass it expeditiously.

Our groups are pleased to be part of a strong coalition that includes tribal members and leaders who have long opposed uranium mining and its significant harm to their communities. The coalition includes the Havasupai, Hualapai, and Hopi Tribes, and the Navajo Nation, business owners, faith groups, local government leaders, military veterans, Colorado River outfitters and guides, hunting and fishing groups, and others.

Amber Wilson Reimondo

Amber Wilson Reimondo

This legislation is critical to stopping the threats that mining poses to water quality and quantity, unique habitats and wildlife pathways, and to sacred places. We must stop the growth of a legacy of deadly pollution that remains unmitigated and already disproportionately afflicts tribal communities in the Southwest.

Scientific research done to date has underscored the need for a permanent ban and the elevated level of risk associated with mining within the highly fractured geology of the rimlands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. The complex geologic nature of the region means that a mine, whether on the Canyon’s edge or miles away, can still have negative implications for Grand Canyon’s life-sustaining waters.

Elsewhere the region is still impacted by seven decades of legacy pollution from hundreds of yet-unremediated mines and other uranium facilities, including one mine within Grand Canyon National Park. The people most harmed by this pollution and suffering generational health impacts from it, are primarily and disproportionately Indigenous, including the Navajo Nation and Hopi.

In addition to the potential harm to the water, wildlife, landscapes, and people of the region, mining uranium near the Grand Canyon does not make sense from a national security or economic perspective.

Any potential reward is outweighed by the risk that uranium mining poses to Grand Canyon, the surrounding region, and the people and economies that depend upon these lands and waters. Only 0.2% of identified U.S. uranium resources are located in the proposed ban area, and underground mining to extract uranium from naturally occurring uranium deposits formed in “breccia pipes” is relatively expensive and short-lived. In contrast, mining contamination and groundwater depletion would threaten the thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars the Grand Canyon currently and continually brings to gateway communities.

Congress has the opportunity to permanently protect the Grand Canyon region and those whose livelihoods, health, and cultures depend upon it, rather than allow it to be jeopardized for toxic uranium mines to benefit the short-term profits of a few and potentially expose us to pollution forever. The Senate should join the House in passing the Grand Canyon Protection Act. 

Sandy Bahr is director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter and Amber Wilson Reimondo is Energy Program director with Grand Canyon Trust.

 

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