In the last ten years, the threat of toxic pollution from uranium mining has rapidly encroached upon the Grand Canyon, one of our greatest national treasures. Fortunately, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Monday that the Obama Administration will place a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining on 1 million acres of land around the rim of the canyon. The ban will help protect the canyon and the Colorado River from the potentially disastrous impacts of radioactive contamination and toxic waste that have long accompanied uranium mining in the Southwest.
Frontier Group’s 2011 report, Grand Canyon at Risk: Uranium Mining Doesn’t Belong Near Our National Treasures, detailed the extensive damage to public health and the environment in the Southwest by the mining industry. In the last half-century, spills and seepages of radioactive waste from both active and abandoned mines have polluted groundwater and soil with radioactive material and toxic chemicals, causing severe illness and contributing to cancer in neighboring communities. Despite this legacy, President Bush implemented policies to allow mining within five miles of the canyon.
Mining activity so close to the canyon would have threatened drinking water supplies for millions of Americans in cities such as Phoenix and Los Angeles, which draw water from the Colorado River. It would also have disrupted the area’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry by marring pristine views of the canyon.
However, the moratorium represents one of the strongest possible long-term legal protections for the canyon. Secretary Salazar and the Administration should be applauded for respecting the wishes of the public—mobilized by Environment America and other groups to place phone calls and write letters by the thousands—to protect our precious natural resources from dirty, dangerous uranium mining.