Members of the House and Senate from Utah and Arizona introduced legislation today in an attempt to stop the Obama administration from withdrawing 1 million acres of national forests around the Grand Canyon from mining. Without the withdrawal, the lands around the Canyon are under threat from 30 uranium mines. The withdrawal is widely supported, with 300,000 members of the public commenting in support of the ban.
Uranium mining is governed by a patchwork of federal and state laws, including partial regulation under the 1872 Mining Law, an archaic statute that considers mining to be the highest and best use of the federal land. Uranium mines pose threats to public health and water from radioactive wastes, and can have serious impacts on sensitive ecosystems. Given the importance of the Colorado River and the drinking water it provides to millions, uranium mining in the area is too much of a risk.
Last month, the Wall Street Journal editorialized in favor of uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, criticizing the Obama administration for favoring a 20-year withdrawal that would put some of the forests around the Canyon off limits to mineral development.
The editors fell blindly into the false choice of jobs versus the environment, and grossly understated the potential impacts 30 uranium mines could have on such a sensitive ecosystem.
While corporate mining fat cats are rolling in dough thanks
to record high gold prices, the hardrock mining industry
pays exactly zero in royalties to American taxpayers for
publicly-owned minerals. Royalties that could fund mine
cleanup jobs. Photo: Flaming Zombie Monkeys
This week, the House Natural Resources Committee held the third installment in their continuing series focused on American jobs and the energy and extraction industries. The premise of the hearing – that reasonable mining regulations to protect taxpayers and water resources always come at a cost to jobs and the economy – sets up a false choice for Americans.
We do not have to sacrifice our public lands to solve our nation’s economic crisis. Responsible management of our resources can both help bolster our economy while protecting our waters and national treasures for future generations.
Real and meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law would do just that.
At the hearing, entitled “Creating American Jobs by Harnessing Our Resources: Domestic Mining Opportunities and Hurdles,” Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) announced plans to introduce 1872 Mining Law reform legislation this fall.
Frankly, it s better than we expected. Given the lack of community representation amongst the panel, we were concerned that the panel would ignore the obvious negative impacts of natural gas in favor of industry rhetoric.
Instead, the panel recognized the serious impacts that shale gas production has on water, air and public health.
We hope that this report is a wake up call to the Obama administration, and that they begin to pay attention to both the panel recommendations and the recent history of inadequate state attempts to regulate natural gas production. This report should serve as a blueprint for responsible oversight of shale gas drilling.
Three of the most important recommendations of the interim report:
This week, Congress adjourned for their month long August recess without voting on the Interior and Environment appropriations bill that included dozens of anti-environmental amendments. These amendments threatened wild lands, clean air, clean water and public health. Many of you spoke out against this unprecedented assault, and for that I thank you.
Unfortunately, the fight is not over. When Congress returns in the fall, they will once again turn to the appropriations process and the anti-environmental riders that now seem to always go along with that process.
Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new air rules for oil and gas operations in an effort to reduce smog and toxic airborne pollution linked to oil and gas production, including the first-ever federal air rules for wells that are hydraulically fractured. These cost-effective regulations, including the use of green completions, will reduce air pollution caused by the drilling, processing and transmission of oil and gas while saving the industry nearly 30 million dollars per year.
The EPA s proposed plan will limit air emissions of benzene and other toxic chemicals as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) smog-forming pollutants which can cause asthma and premature death. Air toxics, including benzene, can cause cancer and other serious health problems. Communities across the country have long been experiencing significant health impacts from air pollution related to oil and gas production. In some parts of Wyoming, ozone pollution on some days has exceeded what Los Angeles experiences on its worst smog days.
Each year, lawmakers must pass 12 spending bills to fund the government. And each year, some lawmakers use these spending bills to push through anti-environmental provisions that have nothing to do with funding the government. These provisions, called "riders" because of the way they ride along on unrelated must-pass legislation, are usually terrible policies that lawmakers know they wouldn't be able to move through Congress as part of the regular legislative process.
The spending bills that are currently moving through the House of Representatives contain the most anti-environmental riders of any year that I can recall in my decade-long career in DC. If they become law, these policy riders would decimate some of our most basic environmental protections. Clean air, clean water and our most treasured places are under threat.
This week, the House of Representatives launched at all out attack on communities and the environment. In vote after vote, they chose the profits of businesses over the health of our water and air.
On Tuesday, the spending bill for agencies like the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency was voted out of committee. This bill contains nearly too many anti-environmental amendments to count amendments that have nothing to do with appropriating spending for government agencies.
There are three amendments that those of us here at Earthworks are particularly concerned about. One is an amendment that would prohibit the Department of the Interior from withdrawing the lands around the Grand Canyon from mining. The second is an amendment that would stop the EPA from issuing rules to expand the definition of waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act -- a rule that is badly needed to protect ephemeral streams from mining waste and other pollution. And last, but not least, an amendment that would prohibit the EPA from requiring important financial assurances for hardrock mines to ensure that mining companies, not taxpayers, clean up the mess after a mine shuts down.