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Posted Jul 28, 2011, 11:25 am
It's not too dramatic to say the Grand Canyon has been under siege from mining claims for several years now. Unfortunately, several of my Arizona congressional colleagues have taken stands that would make sure that siege continues.
As I wrote in a May 4 letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, there are at least 8,500 mining claims near the Canyon, up from the 100 claims on file in January of 2003. That's why June 20 was such a big day in the history of American conservation.
In a ceremony I was proud to attend, Salazar said he will recommend withdrawing more than 1 million acres around the Canyon from mining claims for the next 20 years. It was, in every sense, a huge deal.
That announcement, unfortunately, wasn't the end of the discussion. Salazar's proposal won't be formalized until the end of the year; and, in the meantime, Republicans in Congress - including Republican Reps. Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and Paul Gosar - have been busy.
The most important issue to watch is an unusual amendment to this year's Interior Department funding bill. The amendment says Interior can't implement Salazar's withdrawal of those acres around the Grand Canyon. Even though this is a spending bill, which isn't allowed to make policy, it just goes ahead and says Interior can't do its job.
Who wrote this amendment?
According to his own July 12 press release, it was Rep. Flake. Just as bad, Reps. Franks and Gosar wrote a May 16 letter to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., calling Salazar's proposal "a serious national-security threat." I'm betting they'll support the Flake amendment when they get the chance.
What makes Rep. Flake's effort especially strange is that American corporations, or even our nuclear-power sector, wouldn't really benefit if it passed. Much of the uranium extracted by Denison Mines Corp., a Canadian company with multiple mining leases in the Grand Canyon area, is exported to South Korea, where Korea Electric Power Corp. has an ownership stake.
How will protecting the Grand Canyon from a South Korean-owned Canadian mining firm create a national-security crisis? The Franks-Gosar letter doesn't really say. It does say that withdrawing the land from mining claims is "political gamesmanship." I'll let readers decide how they feel about that.
Action on this amendment will probably come soon. The funding bill has been approved by the House Appropriations Committee but hasn't been to the full House for a vote. If it passes, it will almost certainly include this language. Unless someone in the Senate works to get it taken out, it will be in the final bill that goes to the president.
This is all part of a bigger ideological campaign to eliminate environmental protections Republicans disagree with in principle. It isn't about helping the economy. It's about not believing the government should protect the environment, period.
Arizona doesn't want to open the Grand Canyon for mining, drilling or any other kind of disruption. The Canyon isn't just a pile of rocks or a vein of minerals waiting to be turned into cash. It's the crown jewel of our national-parks system and one of the most beautifully recognizable features of the entire planet.
This amendment would put the needs of millions of Grand Canyon visitors - not to mention the Canyon itself - somewhere below the needs of mining CEOs.
I'm squarely against this tactless, unnecessary corporate giveaway. I think the people of this state, and this country, agree with me. I'd like to know from Rep. Flake what his proposal is supposed to accomplish and who he's earmarking this for. Let's end the siege on the Grand Canyon once and for all.
U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 7th Congressional District.