Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2017

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Stop mining giveaways

Drilling permit near Grand Canyon brings mining law’s obsolescence intofocus

As with all views of the Grand Canyon, the vista from the South Rim’s Navajo Point is spectacular.

The immense landscape of carved buttes and seemingly bottomless chasms stretches to the horizon in deep reds, oranges and purples. The Colorado River is just barely visible as a mocha-colored rivulet among the rocks.

Less than three miles from this spot, just outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park, the U.S. Forest Service has quietly approved a British mining company’s request to conduct exploratory uranium drilling in the Kaibab National Forest.

If Vane Minerals finds sufficient uranium deposits, it could create the first active uranium mines near Grand Canyon National Park in more than two decades.

They likely won’t be the last. More than 1,000 new uranium mining claims have been staked on federal lands near the Grand Canyon during the past three years because of rising uranium prices.

The Forest Service’s approval came after no public hearing and no formal environmental assessment because the nation’s 1872 mining law doesn’t require them. The law does not call for balancing environmental concerns — such as protecting water supplies or sensitive lands — with the interests of mining for uranium and other hard-rock resources such as gold and silver. Such requirements do apply to coal, oil and natural gas drilling.

The House has passed, and the Senate is considering, revisions to the law that would place hard-rock mining under environmental reviews, reclamation requirements and federal royalty payments that apply to other resource extraction operations. Right now hard-rock operations drill on public land for free.

As we have written before, we recognize that hard-rock mining is an important part of Nevada’s rural economy, but that shouldn’t give mining companies a free pass.

Mining companies should be treated like any other company that seeks to remove natural resources from public lands, by paying for that privilege and being subjected to comprehensive environmental reviews to protect our water and land — including our national parks.

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