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It’s Time to Reconsider the Costs of Uranium Mining Around Grand Canyon

NAU press event

Northern Arizona University students (left to right) Heath Emerson, Montana Johnson, Sienna Chapman, and Tommy Rock were all born after the Canyon Mine Environmental Impact Statement was developed. Photo: Taylor McKinnon.

NAU Against Uranium, a volunteer group made up of Northern Arizona University students, is demanding a new environmental review for a Grand Canyon area uranium mine. On November 21, 2013, they organized a "Youth Speak in Defense of the Canyon" press conference confronting the exclusion of young people from the public review process for the Canyon uranium mine, located just six miles south of Grand Canyon National Park. Students, Havasupai tribal members, and NAU faculty spoke in support of youth inclusion.

The Forest Service's refusal to update the Canyon mine's 1986 environmental review has meant that anyone born after 1986 has not been given the opportunity to weigh in on the project, even though its reopening in April could significantly affect their lives. More than 500 people born after 1986 have signed a petition calling for the chance to participate through a new environmental review.

"From my perspective, my family has lost many relatives to uranium mining.  Many of my relatives were former uranium miners in Monument Valley, Utah. Monument Valley is on the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Nation still has many abandoned uranium mines scattered across the reservation. I do not want to see history repeat itself at Grand Canyon. As a Native American, Grand Canyon is a sacred area," said Northern Arizona University graduate Tommy Rock. 

"This mine will impact my generation, but my generation is excluded from the Forest Service's public process," said NAU student Montana Johnson.

The Forest Service claims there is no significant new information to warrant a new review, despite designation of the Red Butte Traditional Cultural Property in the area, the discovery of soil and water contamination at the nearby Orphan Mine, and a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey report showing uranium concentrations in groundwater beneath the mine exceeding federal drinking water standards. The mine threatens the cultural values of the Havasupai and other tribes as well as the contamination and depletion of aquifers feeding Grand Canyon springs.

"I have no assurance, and neither does the public, that mining can be done safely if it's based on a 27-year-old environmental review that ignores new science," said student Heath Emerson.

"When this Environmental Impact Statement was done in 1986, my mother was only 15 years old," said Sienna Chapman, an NAU student who was born and raised in Flagstaff. "Yet it is my generation and future generations that will have to pay for cleanup and deal with health and environmental effects."

Last week, citing market conditions and ongoing litigation from the Havasupai Tribe and conservation groups, Energy Fuels placed the Canyon Mine on "standby," ceasing shaft excavation pending completion of litigation in federal district court. The last time the mine was placed in standby mode, in 1992, it remained so for 21 years. 

The students would like environmental realities, rather than fluctuating economics, to determine whether uranium mining is allowed to proceed around Grand Canyon.

The petition reads:

"We, the undersigned, were born after 1986 and therefore foreclosed from the public process prior to permitting the Canyon Uranium Mine on Kaibab National Forest land –- our public land. Recognizing that science has advanced since 1986, including the discovery of soil and water contamination at the Orphan Mine in Grand Canyon National Park, better hydrologic models, and the identification of soil contamination at every uranium mine near Grand Canyon that was studied by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2009, and in light of the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars being spent to clean up uranium pollution on the Navajo Nation, we request a new Environmental Impact Statement, including public input and proper Tribal consultation.  Thank you."

-- by Alicyn Gitlin, Sierra Club Arizona

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