Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 | 2:08 a.m.
When the House Natural Resources Committee voted in June to ban approval of new mining claims adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park, we commented that ore operations should undergo the same environmental scrutiny as is required for coal, oil and gas exploration projects.
Since then Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who is certainly no friend of the environment, and his Bureau of Land Management have ignored Congress and continued to process mining claims near the canyon. Such contempt for the legislative process is offensive, particularly in this case.
That’s because most of the claims involve uranium, a radioactive metallic element that can be highly toxic to humans and wildlife if ingested in large enough quantities. The legitimate concern raised by environmentalists, water authorities and political leaders, including Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, is that widespread uranium mining could pollute the Colorado River, which snakes through the canyon. The river is the primary drinking water source for 25 million people, including residents of Southern Nevada, Arizona and Southern California.
As reported by the Christian Science Monitor in an article reprinted in the Las Vegas Sun on Oct. 14, mining companies encouraged by soaring uranium prices and the prospect of greater use of nuclear power have staked more than 10,600 mineral claims on 1 million acres adjacent to the canyon. Even though a lawsuit and an injunction supported by environmentalists have stalled uranium mining along the canyon’s south rim, the Bush administration continues to process mining claims to the north.
These approvals should cease immediately and should not be allowed to resume, if at all, until a comprehensive regional environmental review is conducted to measure the potential effect such a large volume of uranium mining could have on the river. A 2004 U.S. Geological Survey study found one creek that runs near an abandoned uranium mine and empties into the river “approached or exceeded” federal safe drinking water standards, the Monitor reported.
We cannot afford to let uranium mining get out of hand to the point where it jeopardizes our drinking water.