Parting Shot? Bush Administration Removes Uranium Mining Restrictions Near Tribal Lands

Sweetwater Oit

Just weeks before the new Presidential administration takes over in Washington DC, the federal Bureau of Land Management eliminated a regulation that provided congressional committees the power to require the Secretary of Interior to set aside public lands from uranium mining. The Bush administration’s decision may result in uranium mining on public lands near the Grand Canyon, in areas that are the traditional and spiritual home for numerous Tribes. Given the renewed interest in uranium mining as a source of alternative energy, Tribes in the Western United States are expressing concern about the potential environmental risks to their lands.

Charles Vaughn, chairman of the Hualapai Tribe, had previously offered pointed testimony on the issue before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources:

“Although we understand that this industry may provide clean energy for the world market, it is the aftermath of this endeavor that is of grave concern to my people. We do not want to see the byproducts of uranium production stored in places like Yucca Mountain for the remainder of our lifetimes and leave others with the concern of the potential harm this would bring to our progenitors Grandfather Water and Mother Earth. We as an indigenous people are taught to respect and hold sacred those elements that provide the essence of our life. It is out of this belief that we share our concerns for proposed uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park.”

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., authored a resolution through the House Committee on Natural Resources that required the Department of Interior to protect lands around Grand Canyon National Park from uranium mining. He expressed regret at the administration’s action to override the resolution:

“I am disappointed that the Interior Department under the Bush administration has chosen to throw out federal rules it finds inconvenient to its goal of allowing uranium mining within a few miles of our nation’s premiere National Park, the Grand Canyon. This last minute change puts at risk the health of millions of citizens of the West who rely on the Colorado River of the Grand Canyon for their drinking water supply, as well as visitors to the park and Tribal communities within and around the Grand Canyon.”

In contrast, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska and the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee, applauded the new policy. “We cannot afford to have more of our nation’s vital minerals and energy supplies to be locked up by the ill-advised actions of a single Congressional Committee,” said Young.