Protecting the Grand Canyon from mining on its 100th anniversary

Yesterday Grand Canyon National Park celebrated its 100th birthday. Fortune explained it best: “on Feb. 26, 1919, Congress passed legislation backed by President Woodrow Wilson recognizing the canyon as a national park. The natural wonder has become an American symbol and a space for visitors to connect with the raw outdoors. The scenic landscape holds both the heritage and culture of America’s first people and a collection of unique historical and geological records.” Yet this national treasure is under threat from the likes of uranium mining, increased tourism, and climate change. That’s why Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee vowed to reintroduce legislation to halt uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.The Arizona Republic reported:

  • Grijalva has introduced other versions of what he’s calling the “Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act” several times in recent years, but he’s likely to find stronger support this time in the Democratic-controlled House
  • He made the announcement just days before the 100th anniversary of the Canyon’s status as a national park, and just days after news broke about buckets full of uranium ore sitting in a South Rim museum, exposing visitors and employees to small amounts of radiation.
  • The bill would recognize the plight of indigenous people who have been affected by mining in the Grand Canyon. Some of the tribes are still dealing with the effects of uranium mines that sickened or killed people who lived or worked nearby. Tribal leaders fear new mines could further contaminate the environment.
  • Just last week news broke about buckets full of uranium ore sitting in a South Rim museum, exposing visitors and employees to small amounts of radiation.
Why This Matters: In 2012, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar implemented a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining in the Grand Canyon yet now, as High Country News explained, the Trump administration and some Western members of Congress are pushing to lift that moratorium. Last May the Department of the Interior released a list of 35 minerals set to enjoy looser environmental and permitting standards because of their importance to “national security and economic prosperity.” The list includes uranium even though DOI’s screening tool suggested it didn’t meet the criteria. Our richest uranium deposits are found around the Grand Canyon yet mining this element can spread radioactive dust through the air and leak radioactivity and toxic chemicals into the environment—and is among the riskiest industrial activities in the world (not to mention its devastating impact on indigenous communities).

Go Deeper: Honoring the legacy of the Grand Canyon means protecting it from exploitation. Read Cindy McCain’s (widow of long-serving AZ Senator John McCain) recent joint op-ed about the need to protect this precious national park.

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