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New Mining Claims Banned Near Grand Canyon

January 10, 2012

LAS VEGAS - New uranium mining claims near the Grand Canyon in Arizona 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 north and south of the National Park are affected.

Scott Rutledge, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, 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. His group has been eagerly awaiting this action by the Obama administration.

"Instead of piecing this out every two years, having to come back for the same debate, the 20-year moratorium ensures Nevada has a clean, safe water supply over the next two decades."

Sportsmen joined with ranchers and Nevada tribes in voicing support for the mining ban, although some Republican members of Congress are backing legislation to overturn it. Salazar's action will not affect mining claims already staked near the Canyon.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40 percent of the watersheds that provide Western communities with drinking water have already been polluted by uranium mining waste. Arizona Wildlife Federation board member Ben 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 the industry will bring jobs and boost tax revenues for Nevada. But Scott Rutledge calls that a false argument, and believes mining would hurt another major source of jobs and revenue.

"Tourism industry in Nevada is a multi-billion dollar industry. Protecting this national treasure completely outweighs any economic benefit that would be lost by not allowing these claims to be mined."

Rutledge notes that business groups also backed the ban. He says Salazar's decision is critical to making sure one of the West's great natural treasures is left untouched for future generations.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV