Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) will once again attempt to limit new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, just months after the Interior Department refused to implement protections for the Arizona icon.
Mining activity on those lands, including areas in Kaibab National Forest and the House Rock Valley, are governed under the 1872 hardrock mining law, a law Grijalva says provides neither adequate returns to the government for mined minerals nor mandates any environmental protections.
More than 1,100 uranium mining claims have been filed for sites within 5 miles of the park in recent years as a result of high uranium prices, but Grijalva said new mining near the Arizona icon could contaminate regional water systems in much the same way past uranium mines have. "We have a responsibility to protect the Grand Canyon," Grijalva said in a statement. "The federal government and mining companies should not propose new mining when they still have not adequately dealt with the cleanup of old uranium mine sites on tribal lands and other lands around northern Arizona that are causing ongoing health problems."
House Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is a co-sponsor of the bill, along with fellow Democratic Reps. Ed Pastor of Arizona and Maurice Hinchey of New York.
This is the second time Grijalva has introduced this bill. During a hearing on the legislation last June before the Natural Resources Committee, Bush administration officials and Republicans said the bill would hurt local economies that depend on hardrock mining while doing little to add to existing protections.
Later that month, the committee used a rarely used emergency declaration that compelled then-Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to temporarily withdraw the 1 million acres from future hardrock mining. But Interior rejected the panel's request, arguing that the committee did not have a quorum for the vote, which was taken after Republicans walked out of the markup. The department also disputed the committee's authority under the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act to issue emergency withdrawals and later issued a new rule that limited its ability to carry out such orders.
Grijalva said he would work to convince new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reconsider the temporary withdrawal while he pushes his legislation.
But Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who led the Republican walkout on the emergency vote last summer, said yesterday that numerous legal opinions have disputed the committee's authority to make such withdrawals. "They tried to play fast and loose with the rules," Bishop said of the emergency withdrawal. "I don't even think a Democratic Interior secretary would agree to that."
Calls to the Interior Department were not returned by press time.
Hardrock legislation coming next week
While Grijalva's legislation will deal solely with hardrock mining near the Grand Canyon, Rahall said yesterday he will reintroduce his own legislation next week to update the 1872 hardrock mining law.
In 2007, the House passed a Rahall bill that would have amended the law for the first time since its passage in 1872, creating new environmental regulations for extraction while establishing royalties on production intended in part to fund the cleanup of abandoned mines.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee did not take up the bill despite months of staff work on the issue.
Rahall said he is still refining his proposal and has not decided what kind of royalty to include. His original bill in the last Congress created an 8 percent royalty on production from new and existing mining operations, but the existing operations royalty was reduced to 4 percent when it passed out of committee.
The chairman said he has not ruled out pushing for the 8 percent royalty for both kinds of operations but joked that "it would have an 8 percent chance of passing" if he did.