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New Mining Claims Banned Near Grand Canyon

January 10, 2012

PHOENIX - New uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River will be banned for the next 20 years, under a final decision announced by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Some one million acres of public lands to the north and south of the National Park are affected, though Salazar's action will not affect claims already staked near the Canyon.

Arizona Wildlife Federation board member Ben Alteneder says new uranium mines near the Colorado River would put water supplies at risk, not only for native fisheries and wildlife, but also for the millions of people who live downstream.

"Colorado River water basin incorporates a significant amount of population downstream, not only in Arizona. We're talking about even Nevada as well as California."

Several local and tribal governments in Northern Arizona have voiced support for the mining ban, but Republican members of Congress are backing legislation to overturn it.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of the watersheds that provide Western communities with drinking water have already been polluted by uranium mining waste. Alteneder says it's not worth the risk of added contamination that new mines would bring.

"There's been several studies that have been done on creeks in the Grand Canyon themselves that have suffered the effects of uranium mining in the past - Kanab Creek - and you only have to go a few short miles over to the Navajo nation to see the impacts of uranium mining over there."

Mining companies and some lawmakers contend new mining will bring jobs and boost tax revenues in Northern Arizona. But Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell calls that a false argument, because he believes mining would hurt area tourism.

"The jobs generated by tourism around the Grand Canyon, and the amount of money that brings into the state, are immeasurable. And they far outweigh the few jobs that might be created by a mining operation."

Campbell says Salazar's decision is critical to protecting one of the most treasured places in the world and making sure that it's left untouched for future generations.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ