Natural Resources Committee passes Grijalva bills to protect Grand Canyon from uranium mining, remove uranium from “critical minerals” list

Pictured: Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee.(Photo: grijalva.house.gov)

Together, the bills represent a concerted effort to end the mining industry’s push for special treatment from the federal government

News Release

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee

The House Natural Resources Committee yesterday approved Chair Raúl M. Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) bills to protect the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims (H.R. 1373, the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act) and to remove uranium from the federal critical minerals list (H.R. 3405, Removing Uranium From the Critical Minerals List Act). Taken together, the bills represent a concerted effort to end the mining industry’s push for special treatment from the federal government.

H.R. 1373, which has 116 cosponsors, was introduced on June 4, 2019, the hundredth anniversary of the Grand Canyon becoming a national park. Native American tribal leaders from across northern Arizona spoke at the rollout press conference in favor of the bill, which would protect land many native communities consider sacred and still use for ceremonial practices.

A spreadsheet of local supporters – including businesses, outdoor recreation companies, sportsmen’s groups, conservation organizations, tribes and local governments – is available here.

“Uranium mining throughout northern Arizona has impacted the health and well-being of families across the region, and communities are still grappling with the legacy of this activity decades later,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.) after today’s passage of H.R. 1373, of which he’s an original cosponsor. “I am proud to work with my colleagues to protect my constituents and the Grand Canyon, which is an economic driver that contributes billions to Arizona’s economy. We cannot allow these precious lands to be turned over to mining operations that could irreparably harm the area.”

“After the extractive industries mine away our natural resources, they should clean up their mess. But uranium mining has had a toxic impact across the southwest, leaving behind thousands of abandoned mine sites on the Navajo Nation leaving taxpayers on the hook for cleanup,” said Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee and a cosponsor of H.R. 1373. “Just yesterday I met with several Navajo members who lost family members to the toxic effects of uranium mining and who themselves are suffering with resulting health problems. We cannot allow people to suffer from these preventable impacts simply to do the bidding of the mining industry, and Chairman Grijalva’s bill will protect the Grand Canyon ecosystem and the people who call it home.”

Grijalva’s H.R. 3405 removes uranium from the federal list of critical minerals, which can be subject to loosened mining and environmental regulations. The Trump administration added uranium to the list, under industry pressure, on May 18, 2018, despite a total lack of scientific, economic or national security justification.

Grijalva and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and cosponsors the bill, wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in May highlighting problems with uranium’s inclusion on the list and requesting more information. Bernhardt has so far ignored Grijalva and Lowenthal’s request for documents on how uranium was added to the list.

Grijalva included language similar to H.R. 3405 as an amendment to the House version of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which has yet to be conferenced with the Senate.

“Keeping uranium on the critical mineral list is nothing more than a license for mining companies to pilfer our public lands in search of a commodity they can make exorbitant profits on,” Rep. Lowenthal said. “It’s not about security - through reserves, current domestic production, and trade with our close allies Canada and Australia, we have sufficient access to uranium. It remains on the list as an unnecessary giveaway for a few special interests. I’m proud to cosponsor this bill to correct that error.”

Quotes Supporting H.R. 1373 and H.R. 3405

“Sierra Club is thrilled to see bills move forward that not only protect the Grand Canyon, but other places as well by removing uranium from the critical minerals list,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director of Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “These are important steps to permanently protect the public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon from uranium mining pollution. Preventing more toxic pollution and cleaning up existing contamination on public, Navajo, Havasupai, and Hopi lands, must be a top priority. We hope Senator Sinema will now show leadership and introduce the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act in the Senate to establish a legacy of safeguarding Grand Canyon.”

“These bills will protect wildlife in two of the country’s most cherished landscapes. They will protect communities nearby. They will protect water for future generations,” said Tracy Stone-Manning, associate vice president for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Congress should follow the committee’s lead and pass these important bills.” 

“A permanent mineral withdrawal around the Grand Canyon is simply the right thing to do,” said Brad Powell, president of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “The Grand Canyon is one of the great natural wonders of the world. The lands around it must be protected from the known threats of uranium mining so that future generations will be able to continue to hike, raft, hunt and fish in the area.” 

“These are cherished lands by Arizonans as well as millions of people who visit this area from around the world. Protecting this area from the impacts from irresponsible mining is of utmost importance to maintaining the integrity of this land,” said Nathan Rees, Arizona field coordinator at Trout Unlimited. “Why would we put one of our most iconic places at risk of being irreparably harmed? These lands are all connected. Fish and wildlife don’t recognize boundaries, nor does water, and one bad decision or accident will impact them all. Arizonans are unquestionably in favor of doing more to protect this landscape and sportsmen are excited about the progress this legislation has made. People depend on our recreation economy to make a living. This solution helps guarantee that lands remain healthy, ensuring the sustainability of our local economy, so we are thrilled to see this legislation move forward.”

“Given uranium mining’s already observed negative effects; the potential for expanded uranium mining to cause irreparable damage around Grand Canyon; and our reverence for the region’s ecosystems, watershed, Indigenous peoples, wildlife corridors, and recreational opportunities, we support the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act and the Removing Uranium from the Critical Minerals List Act,” said Kelly Burke, executive director of Wild Arizona. “Uranium mining poses significant threats to the Grand Canyon, while providing insignificant, short-lived potential benefits. Uranium does not belong on the Critical Minerals List, nor does mining belong around the Grand Canyon. We urge Congress to pass these vital pieces of legislation.”

“The Grand Canyon is a natural wonder and one of America’s most spectacular landscapes. Stretching across hundreds of thousands of acres of northern Arizona, this area is one of the wildest and most ecologically significant regions in the West,” said Mike Quigley, Arizona state director at The Wilderness Society. “The health of places like the Grand Canyon and Bears Ears and of neighboring communities is jeopardized by uranium mining. To permanently protect these places, we are also urging Congress to prohibit Interior from deeming uranium a critical mineral by passing H.R. 3405” 

“Today’s committee action marks a significant step towards protecting one of our nation’s most iconic landscapes for the enjoyment and well-being of many generations to come,” said Kevin Dahl, Arizona senior program manager at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Grand Canyon is no place for uranium mining – an operation that would threaten clean water and air for the native Havasupai people, millions of park visitors, and iconic wildlife, such as the California Condor. The National Parks Conservation Association is encouraged by the bill’s momentum and the committee’s support to keep uranium off the critical minerals list. We strongly urge the rest of congress to follow suit and protect Grand Canyon National Park, and other public lands, for all Americans.” 

“Nuclear experts say that the U.S. is at no risk of a uranium supply shortage and the majority of Arizona voters, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats, agree that the Grand Canyon region is no place for obtaining uranium,” said Amber Reimondo, energy program director at the Grand Canyon Trust. “It's time to reject the unwarranted environmental shortcuts uranium is set to receive as a 'critical' mineral, remove uranium from the critical minerals list, and permanently protect the Grand Canyon from the inherent threats of uranium extraction.” 

“This bill protects one of the most famous landmarks in the world. It’s a wonderful gift to all Americans now and in the future,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Years from now people will look back and wonder why it was even controversial. For seven decades this region has been afflicted by dangerous uranium pollution. It’s well past time to ensure the life-giving waters and springs of the grandest canyon on Earth will be permanently protected from toxic mining. We applaud Congressman Grijalva and tribal leaders for their years of leadership protecting the Grand Canyon region.”

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee - Grijalva logo
(Image: Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee)

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