Feds Act To Stop Uranium Mining Near Grand Canyon

June 21, 2011

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar recently announced he will extend a temporary ban on any new uranium mining claims surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. During the next six months, his agency is expected to complete an environmental review and recommend a 20-year moratorium.

In recent years, uranium mining companies have staked thousands of claims near the Grand Canyon. Those companies claim the technology they use protects the Colorado River watershed, which is a key source of drinking water for the west, including populous Southern California. The river runs through the canyon.

Photo by Laurel Morales
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar makes an announcement regarding uranium mining at the Grand Canyon.

But the federal government temporarily banned uranium extraction on a million acres surrounding the park so it could study just how much impact mining has on the environment and the economy. That moratorium was set to expire in July.

During a visit to the Grand Canyon on June 20th, Salazar told representatives from Indian tribes and neighboring communities that his agency needed a few more months to finish its study before making a long-term decision.

“Wisdom, caution and science should guide our protection of the Grand Canyon,” Salazar said. “We face a choice that could profoundly affect the Grand Canyon in ways we do not yet understand.”

Arizona Congressman Raúl Grijalva was at the Grand Canyon Monday. He said he's pleased the U.S. Department of Interior is considering a long-term ban.

“We don’t know what the intended and unintended consequences of large level uranium mining can have on the region and on the canyon and on the water,” said Grijalva, who has introduced a bill to permanently ban uranium mining near the national park.

In the meantime, a handful of operations are still allowed to mine.