OpinionJan 17, 2012
The Grand Canyon: Not for Sale
In the late 1960s, the daredevil Evel Kneivel lobbied the United States Government to jump over the Grand Canyon on his motorcycle. Believe it or not, jumping over the Grand Canyon has now become the second-craziest idea ever proposed about our nation's most iconic natural feature.
That is because the Republican plan to give away land around the Grand Canyon to Russian uranium mining interests is the first.
In an effort to solidify their standing as the worst environmental Congress in history, House Republicans have proposed the unthinkable -- allowing a permanent uranium mining zone around the Grand Canyon. Something Congress has never done.
Adding insult to injury, one of the largest uranium mines that Republicans want to open is owned in part by Russia's nuclear energy organization. That means the successor to the agency that presided over the Chernobyl disaster would be allowed to mine for uranium near one of America's most beloved national treasures.
Mining uranium around the Grand Canyon would put safe, clean drinking water -- water that is the lifeblood for several western states including Nevada, Arizona and California -- at risk. Some 25 million people depend on drinking water from the Canyon. The Grand Canyon generates over $700 million dollars and tens of thousands of jobs each year for the local economy.
That is why local community groups and small businesses have opposed the Republican-Russian uranium mining plan.
Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee have been fighting to protect the canyon for years. In 2008 we passed a resolution, offered by Congressman Raul Grijalva, who has been a tireless champion on this issue for years, calling for emergency protections of federal lands near the Grand Canyon National Park.
This action forced the Bush Administration to slow the pace of their giveaways.
Thankfully, this latest Republican assault on the Canyon prompted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to announce last week the protection of one million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon from more uranium mining.
Secretary Salazar showed great leadership in ensuring that these protections continue and are strengthened.
When families travel to see the Grand Canyon, they have a right to expect that the only glow they will see will come from the sun setting over the rim of this natural wonder - and not from the radioactive contamination that comes from uranium mining.
Hikers do not want to see more signs like the one at Horn Creek trail in the Grand Canyon. It warns visitors not to drink the uranium-tainted water "unless death by thirst is the only other option" because the levels of radiation in the water far exceed EPA limits for public health.
The toxic pollution at Horn Creek was caused by just one mining company. That mine has already cost taxpayers $7 million in damage assessment alone. Partial clean up of the mess will cost tens of millions more.
If the Grand Canyon is a geological window into the history of our planet, then the mining law that allows this kind of threat is a historical window into our energy policy.
All of this is made possible by the ridiculously out of date Mining Law of 1872 -- a law that was enacted three years after John Wesley Powell's first expedition through the Grand Canyon. That law makes filing mining claims cheap and easy, while requiring no protections for the environment or public health, and no royalties paid to the American taxpayer.
So thank you to the Obama administration. They recognize that the Grand Canyon isn't just a natural icon, it is a national treasure that deserves enduring respect.
In 2008, the President told Americans "Yes We Can." Last week, the Obama administration said "Yes We Canyon."
Now we need your help in protecting the Grand Canyon and America's national parks from polluters. Congressional Republicans attacked the move by Salazar, and have vowed to do whatever it takes to help uranium mining interests.
So please take action on our Committee Democrats website. Add your voice and declare NO uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. You can also show your support by sharing your photos from trips to America's national parks.