Session set to hear concerns on mining

U.S. representative seeks input from stakeholders over uranium exploration

U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) will lead a Congressional field hearing in Flagstaff Friday on potential uranium mining on federal land near Grand Canyon.

It begins at 10 a.m., at Flagstaff City Hall, 211 West Aspen Ave.

The hearing, "Community Impacts of Uranium Mining near the Grand Canyon," is a joint effort between the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee, which Grijalva chairs, and the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

He said that representatives from area tribes, Forest Service and other land management agencies and the uranium industry will testify.

Grijalva is sponsoring the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2008 (H.R. 5583), which would remove 1 million acres around Grand Canyon from exploration and extraction of uranium.

"Uranium mining is doable on some federal lands," he said. "Grand Canyon is a different level. It's not only a national icon but one to the world."

He also termed it a "placeholder" to provide some protection until the Senate takes up revisions to the 1872 mining law that were passed by the House of Representatives last year. Grijalva said the new law, which requires payment of royalties to a fund for conservation and restoration, isn't likely to move forward under the current administration.

In the meantime, the legislation he is currently at work on would prohibit uranium mining activity under the 1872 Mining Act in three areas totaling about 1 million acres - on the Tusayan Ranger District south of the park, the Kanab Creek watershed north of the park and at House Rock Valley near Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

There are more than 2,000 claims on the Tusayan Ranger District alone.

"I'm very concerned about the proposal to allow uranium mining near our most famous National Park, the Grand Canyon," Grijalva said. "The 1872 mining law allows this activity on our public lands and as a result, clean up of old uranium mine sites in this region has not been adequately dealt with. Many of the surrounding tribes have been experiencing ongoing health problems and this hearing will present the opportunity to examine these issues and determine what federal agencies are doing to protect human health and the environment."

Last month, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution opposing uranium mining near Grand Canyon.

Earlier this month, Gov. Janet Napolitano requested that Secretary of the Interior Kempthorne administratively withdraw the areas from mining on an expedited basis.

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