In response to concerns raised by environmental groups, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in July 2009 that he was considering withdrawing the land from mineral entry for 20 years. New mining claims were put on hold for two years while Mr. Salazar’s staff studied the issue.
And studied, and studied. After months of consultation with federal, tribal and local authorities, thousands of comments, and dozens of public meetings, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued its verdict this February, in a draft environmental impact statement of more than 1,000 pages. The conclusion? Mining would do little irreparable harm.
That didn’t sway Mr. Salazar, who announced in June that he intended to go ahead with the 20-year withdrawal. “Cautious development with strong oversight could help us answer critical questions about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area,” he said. The BLM’s final impact statement is due by the end of October, after which Mr. Salazar will issue his final decision.
The Interior Secretary’s doggedness would almost be admirable if it didn’t fly so clearly against his own staff’s environmental analysis. Mr. Salazar cited “water quality concerns raised by downstream water users” in his June announcement. Ensuring a safe water supply should be a primary consideration; the Colorado River provides drinking water for one in 12 Americans and feeds some 15% of the nation’s crops. But the draft impact statement finds “none to negligible” effect on ground- and surface water from uranium mining.
Again, the administration is ignoring the “science” it claims to pride itself on and proceeding with the whims of environmentalists,who continually insinuate that the Grand Canyon itself, an symbolic icon of beauty in nature and popular tourist destination, will be mined. This is of course not true, it is in areas adjacent to the Grand Canyon National Park, which happens to be 1,904 square miles wide.
Environmental groups get away with claiming that they are not against resource extraction in general, but are only against A, B or C project (and how quickly we run out of letters) due to its alleged unique potential for harm. And yet the Bureau of Land Management has all but stated that uranium mining can be pursued in areas around the Grand Canyon without the potential for harm. Will they change their minds? Don’t hold your breath.