Would you avoid a visit to Grand Canyon National Park if you had to drive past a uranium mine to reach the park? That's a timely question in light of the U.S. Forest Service's decision late last year to allow for exploration of the radioactive fuel within a few miles of the park.
A week ago three groups voiced their opinion when they filed a lawsuit to halt the exploration, saying the Forest Service failed to follow National Environmental Policy Act guidelines when it authorized Vane Minerals to drill test holes at up to 39 sites near the Grand Canyon. There were no hearings before the Forest Service approved the permits and no environmental review.
"Grand Canyon simply isn't the place for uranium development," said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiff groups. "Our national treasures deserve better than the calamity of an adjacent industrial zone."
In its defense, the Forest Service has said it has little power to deny uranium development under the 1872 Mining Law.
"The Grand Canyon is facing a massive uranium build-up at its southern boundary," said Sandy Bahr of Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter. "The mining law doesn't negate the Forest Service's duty to conduct detailed environmental and public reviews for new uranium development - and the Grand Canyon deserves at least that much."
On record in opposing the exploration is the Coconino (Arizona) County Board of Supervisors. In unanimously passing a resolution against uranium development close to the national park and its watersheds, the board asked the Arizona congressional delegation to initiate the permanent withdrawal from mining and mineral exploration all federal lands in the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest as well as lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in House Rock Valley.
According to the board, more than 2,000 uranium mining claims have been filed since 2003 in the Tusayan Ranger district. Most of those claims, it adds, are within 10 miles of the park.
"Some places should be off-limits to noise, heavy equipment traffic, drilling, and potential contamination from uranium exploration and drilling; the rim of the Grand Canyon is one of those places," said Dave Gowdey of the Grand Canyon Trust. "Congress should act now to protect the park and its surrounding public lands."