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1872 mining law threatens Grand Canyon
A U.S. law from the pick-and-shovel days of the Western frontier now threatens natural treasures including Grand Canyon National Park as mining claims on public lands proliferate, an environmental group said on Friday.
The 1872 Mining Law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, allows mining companies — including foreign-owned ones — to take about $1 billion a year in gold and other metals from public lands without paying a royalty, according to a report by the nonprofit Pew Environment Group.
“The law was enacted … to encourage the development of the West and … rewarded those people who trekked across the frontier and gave them the right to mine gold, silver, whatever other valuable metals they could find on public land in unlimited amounts for free,” said Pew’s Jane Danowitz.
While the law has remained largely unchanged, the mining industry has expanded so that now multinational corporations still enjoy “basically free access to a majority of public lands,” Danowitz said in a telephone interview.
She said the government estimates these companies legally take at least $1 billion a year worth of gold, uranium and other metals from public lands without compensating U.S. taxpayers.
This contrasts with the oil, gas and coal industries, which have paid royalties to the U.S. Treasury for decades.
Congressional efforts to overhaul the 1872 Mining Law stalled in 2009. This prompted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (at right) to start a process to protect approximately 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon that were threatened by uranium mining operations.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar withdrew close to one million acres of federal land in the Arizona Strip and Kaibab National Forest for two years in 2009. He said the move was intended to allow time to gather scientific data regarding uranium mining in the area and to gather public input.
“With the input of local communities, tribes, stakeholders, and scientists, the Bureau of Land Management has developed four alternatives on which we encourage people to provide their feedback and views,” Salazar said. “This process will help make a decision that recognizes the need for wise development of our energy resources, the importance of healthy lands and waters, and the voices of local communities, tribes, states, and stakeholders.”
On Feb. 17th 2011, the Department of Interior released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for public review that includes four possible actions, one of which would remove 1 million acres from new mining claims for a period of twenty years.
Other proposed alternatives included in the plan would remove smaller parcels of land from mining claims and also include a no action alternative. As prices for uranium and other metals have risen steeply in the last decade, mining claims near the Grand Canyon and other natural landmarks have soared, according to the report, which is available online here . Federal data show that more than 8,000 mining claims have been staked
There are many more reasons why the Grand Canyon Trust is supporting the 20-year ban (Alternative B) on new mining claims, including:
As prices for uranium and other metals have risen steeply in the last decade, mining claims near the Grand Canyon and other natural landmarks have soared, according to the report, which is available online here .
Federal data show that more than 8,000 mining claims have been stakedin national forest and other public land around the Grand Canyon since 2004, an increase of 2,000 percent, while more than two-thirds of the claims on public lands near Yosemite National Park(right) and 99 percent of claims surrounding Arches and Canyonlands in Utah have been staked since 2005.
The report found mining claims have also been staked around Joshua Tree National Park in California, Mount Rushmore National Memorial(left) in South Dakota, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington state, Siskiyou Wild Rivers in Oregon, Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah.
Roger Clark, air and energy director for the Grand Canyon Trust said the organization supports the full withdrawal proposed by the Secretary of the Interior on economic, ecological and pragmatic reasons.
“It’s an incompatible use, really, with the mainstay of our economy in Arizona. We think it is good for the communities and good for the economy to make sure that we’re not industrializing the lands around the Grand Canyon,” Clark said. “If you look at all the mines that might happen in the next 20 years, there is the potential for more than two square miles of mining industrialized areas. And, that’s a big area.”
“The membership of the Arizona Elk Society is concerned that mining in this ecologically unique area is not justified,” he said. “The increase in roads and mining locations, coupled with the sheer number of workers in the area are certain to disrupt crucial migration and birthing area for elk and mule deer. Further, there is the risk to contaminating water resources of the area.”
âThere should be some places that you just do not mine. Uranium is a special concern because it is both a toxic heavy metal and a source of radiation. I worry about uranium escaping into the local water, and about its effect on fish in the Colorado River at the bottom of the gorge, and on the bald eagles, California condors and bighorn sheep that depend on the Canyonâs seeps and springs. More than a third of the Canyonâs species would be affected if water quality suffered.â ~ Steve Martin, former Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent
The Obama administration called for comment on four versions of this protection plan, and a decision is expected this summer.
Reuters,”1872 mining law threatens Grand Canyon“, by Deborah Zabarenko, accessed April 17, 2011
Grand Canyon News, “Uranium plan released by Department of Interior“, by Ryan Williams, accessed April 17, 2011
Grand Canyon Trust, “Please comment on Grand Canyon NP uranium DEIS before May 4, 2011″, accessed April 17, 2011
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