Mining the Grand Canyon for Pollution and Profit
This week, three environmental groups sued the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for approving uranium mining just north of the Grand Canyon. In addition to endangering the Native American people of the area and threatening the Canyon’s fragile desert ecology, pollution from the Denison Mines Corporation’s 207-acre Arizona 1 mine could contaminate the Colorado River, a drinking water source for 25 million Americans.
Canadian-based Denison, a member of the extractive industries conglomerate the Lundin Group, was refused permits by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality for two other mine sites just a year ago, based on the company’s failure to provide adequate information on its pollution control methods and for its proposal to use antiquated technology to capture uranium-contaminated runoff. Despite the company’s track-record, the BLM is not requiring a new environmental impact assessment, but is allowing the company to reopen the Arizona 1 mine based on a review from more than twenty years ago.
In 2006, Denison merged with the International Uranium Corporation (IUC); IUC’s White Mesa uranium mill in Utah was built on land sacred to the Navajo and Ute people, and has been the target of environmental justice and indigenous rights’ advocates for the health and environmental hazards the company created. Last year, Denison was charged by regulators with exceeding the daily limit of uranium ore hauled from the site.
Earlier this year environmentalists revealed that, despite a Congressional resolution banning new mining on 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon, the Interior Department authorized exploratory drilling for Quaterra Alaska, a U.S. subsidiary of Quaterra Resources, a Canadian mining company holding 2,400 mining claims near the Grand Canyon.
In a promotional company profile, Quaterra’s CEO is hailed for his previous experience in the mining industry, including work with Rio Tinto, a company notorious for environmental havoc, human rights violations, and harsh labor practices. His bio also notes a successful sale of his prior firm to Glamis Gold, a U.S. firm bought by Canada’s Goldcorp in 2006 to form one of the world’s largest mining companies.
Glamis is notorious for its dirty mining operations in Honduras and for opposition to its Guatemalan mining plans. Earlier this year, in a NAFTA first, the southwestern Quechan Nation won its dispute with Glamis when an international tribunal ruled that U.S. and state governments were within their rights in regulating the company’s mining in recognition of Native American cultural and land rights. However, Glamis retains mining rights in the area, despite the tribe’s longstanding opposition to mining on its sacred Indian Pass site, an area designated as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2002 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.