In July of 2009, one month before President Obama and his family visited the Grand Canyon, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a two year moratorium on new mining ventures encompassing one million acres of public lands around the canyon. The key word here is "new".
For over five decades reckless uranium mining has left a catostrophic impact on the environment and the people living in the southwest region. Guided by the antiquated Mining Act of 1872, which states that for anyone with the right paperwork and a fee of $5 an acre, they can lease the mineral rights from the government and can control and extract precious metals for personal profit. This law was instituted under President Ullysses S. Grant to encourage westward expansion and allow individual prospectors to stake claims on public lands to mine for gold and silver.
Corporations have taken over from the grizzly faced gold panners of yesteryear and have wreaked havoc ever since, as evidenced by the movie "Poison Wind", here’s the trailer. Because of a decline in uranium prices many mines have been left dormant for years; but, the pollution from those activites and the residual radioactive waste left behind is still problematic.
According to Cyndy Cole, reporting on January 13, 2010 for the Arizona Daily Sun, things are about to change. She writes "It’s expected that six uranium mines could open on federal lands bordering the Grand Canyon, according to estimates by the Bureau of Land Management, and more than 7,500 claims have been filed in northern Arizona". In the article Cyndy relates that Denison Mines resumed mining activites 10 miles from the Grand Canyon National Park in December 2009, six months after Obama’s family trip. Denison Mines also has several uranium extracting sites on the Colorado Plateau near the source of the Colorado River which runs through the Grand Canyon and supplies fresh drinking water to over 25 million residents in the desert southwest.
H.R. 644 was sponsored by Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva and would make Salazar’s temporary halt on mining permanent. The bill is not expected to be acted upon until late in the year (after the elections) and will no doubt be met by opposition from Senate Majority leader Harry Reid because of his ties to the mining industry.