Environment | Opinion

Mark Udall: Defend sacred waters from uranium development

A view of the Grand Canyon. Photo from Save the Confluence / Facebook

Mark Udall, a former U.S. Senator from Colorado, calls on President Barack Obama to designate the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument in order to protect the Grand Canyon from uranium development:
The Grand Canyon Enlargement Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford four decades ago, returned more than 100,000 acres of federal land to the Havasupai tribe. It also effectively banned the building of two new dams in the canyon’s upper and lower gorge. But it, too, fell short in protecting the Grand Canyon in its entirety.

Today, four uranium mines operate within the watershed that drains directly into Grand Canyon National Park. Arbitrary boundaries and antiquated rules permit these mines to threaten hundreds more life-giving seeps and springs in the desert basins below. Thousands of new mining claims on public lands that surround the canyon were put on hold by a 20-year moratorium imposed in 2012 by Ken Salazar, then the interior secretary. The National Mining Association and the Nuclear Energy Institute are suing in federal court to end the ban.

Achieving this hard-won hiatus on new uranium claims took more than five years and one of the broadest coalitions ever aligned to protect the Grand Canyon. The Havasupai, “people of blue-green water,” whose sole source of drinking water is at risk, led the way. They were joined then by county supervisors, chambers of commerce, ranchers, hunters, bird-watchers, artists, scientists, Arizona’s governor, game and fish commissioners and business owners. All united to stop uranium mining from permanently polluting the Grand Canyon and undermining the region’s tourism-driven economy.

But the 2012 victory to halt new claims was temporary. Our challenge now is to rebuild that coalition and make the ban permanent. There’s no reason to wait. President Obama can protect it now.

Get the Story:
Mark Udall: Grand Canyon Waters, at the Abyss (The New York Times 10/14)

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