Advocates demand halt to uranium mine near the Grand Canyon via Salon

By Matthew Rozsa

he Grand Canyon truly lives up to its name, being the largest canyon on Earth and one of the most popular national parks in America. But due to uranium mining in the area, some advocates are warning it could become the site of a future environmental disaster, which threatens to make one Indigenous village “extinct.”

More than 80 groups signed onto a statement on Monday — representing Indigenous communities, scientists and environmental nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity — directed at President Joe Biden and Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, demanding they close the Pinyon Plain uranium mine, which is located near the Grand Canyon.

“We have a choice in front of us. Allowing the Pinyon Plain mine to proceed is subjecting this landscape and its interconnected waters to a legacy of devastation and disregarding the rights of the Indigenous peoples on the land,” Sanober Mirza, Arizona program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said in the statement. “Or we can choose a different path — one that holds a promise of protecting the Grand Canyon’s cultural sanctity, its people and natural resources.”

To understand why the mine’s opponents feel so strongly, one can turn to Amber Reimondo, who work as energy director at a conservationist non-profit called the Grand Canyon Trust. Reimondo explained to Salon by email that, on the one hand, Biden permanently banned mining operations on nearly 1 million acres of federal managed lands by creating the Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni – Ancestral Footprints of the Grand Canyon National Monument in August 2023. Yet the Pinyon Plain mine was exempt from this prohibition, and Reimondo argues that the impact on the region has been “several fold.”

“The Grand Canyon region as a whole and especially the location of the mine, is deeply significant to Indigenous cultures and is a place where tribal members have conducted ceremonies, collected medicine, hunted, and more, for centuries,” Reimondo said. “The mine also overlies critical and complex [and] not well understood groundwater systems. One aquifer in particular — the Red Wall Muav Aquifer — is the sole source of water for the remote Havasupai Village of Supai inside the Grand Canyon. The mine poses a contamination threat to these groundwater resources not just today, but importantly, after the mine’s mere 28-month operational lifespan has concluded and the mining operator ‘cleans up’ and moves on.”

Supai is so remote, it’s only accessible only by helicopter or an 8-mile mule ride or hike, Reimondo explained, noting that if the newly-oxygenated groundwater comes into contact with nearby rocks, minerals like arsenic and uranium will be dissolved by the groundwater and enter aquifers used by the local community and essential to local ecology, including Havasu Falls. Taylor McKinnon, Southwest Director for the Center for Biological Diversity, expressed similar concerns.

“Ultimately, this mine is going to require political leadership,” McKinnon told Salon in an interview, referring to both the Biden and Hobbs administrations. “Those administration’s agencies have the authority to fix this problem if they so choose, and that’s what they should do.”


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