Sierra Club Views on Mining Issues

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Sandy Bahr, Director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, responds to recent comments by Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar about uranium mining near the Grand Canyon and a huge copper deposit near Superior, AZ .

Steve Goldstein: On Monday, interior secretary Ken Salazar announced plans to seek a policy that would ban uranium mining on land near the Grand Canyon for 20 years. Arizona common Paul Gosar appeared on "Horizon" and expressed disappointment in Salazar's decision.

Paul Gosar: We went up and toured one of these sites. It's actually a very clean mining aspect and you're taking something out and replacing it with something that's inert and we've studied it and it's a smaller scale, about 20-30 acres and they're very collapsed in form and I think there's a golden opportunity to have some good mining propositions.

Ted Simons: You think there's enough study?

Paul Gosar: I think you're always mindful where you're going. When you're importing 95% of uranium into the country for energy, it's an energy issue.

Steve Goldstein: Here to share her views on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon is Sandy Bahr director of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra club. Welcome.

Sandy Bahr: Nice to be here.

Steve Goldstein: I presume, you disagree with what congressman Gosar had to say, why?

Sandy Bahr: We worked for many years to protect the lands around the Grand Canyon and think that secretary Salazar is right. There's only one Grand Canyon and we ought to do everything we can to protect it and the Colorado river, which provides drinking water for all of us, to protect the groundwater and seeps and springs in the Grand Canyon that helps to provide habitat for wildlife and frankly, he's wrong about the impacts. There's a legacy from uranium mining in the lands up around Grand Canyon, especially on the Navajo lands and still 520 mine sites that haven't been cleaned up -- some people might argue clean up the mess first before you look at additional mines.

Steve Goldstein: What about his perspective on the energy aspect of things. Producing energy more cheaply.

Sandy Bahr: We don't think the future of the United States or Arizona is in nuclear power. That is an energy generation that has problems on both ends and the uranium mining, contamination and threats to groundwater and then on the generation end there is the whole waste issue.

Steve Goldstein: Are there other protections in place, Congressman Gosar refers to the fact he doesn't think it's as bad you may be making it out to be. Are there protections in place that could protect the land if there is uranium mining.

Sandy Bahr: We think it's too big of a risk. If there's contamination, we don't have a way to clean it up. When the Department of Environmental Quality held public hearings on some permits for the mines, they basically agreed with us, said you're right. And the other problem is we can't trust these agencies to be stringent enough. The Department of Environmental Quality issued general permit for the mines proposed up there. So, yes, it's just too important it take the risk.

Steve Goldstein: What are the risks from contamination?

Sandy Bahr: Well, obviously, the water is a huge issue and the risk to contamination of the groundwater and eventually it's -- well, a lot of it is connected to the seeps and springs in the canyon, and the hydrologists tell us that that is a high risk and there's the whole radiation issue plus uranium is a heavy metal. So it's doubly toxic in a lot of ways. Horn Creek in the Grand Canyons, still contaminated from an old uranium mine and the park service is working to clean that up right now but they tell the people don't drink or bathe in the water.

Steve Goldstein: Concerning what an icon the Grand Canyon is, are you surprise it had took this long to get these sort of protections?

Sandy Bahr: On one hand, yes, but on the other, no, it's difficult to protect land and luckily, Teddy Roosevelt had the foresight to establish Grand Canyon as a national Monday utility using his executive power when the congress wouldn't act and we have the executive branch doing the same here.

Steve Goldstein: Another mining issue is getting a lot of attention in congress right now. It has to do with a huge copper deposit near superior, Arizona. That's beneath land owned by the federal government. The Resolution Copper Company wants to mine that land and it's proposing a land trade to do so. Congressman Paul Gosar introduced a bill to facilitate the trade. One of the sticking points is an environmental impact analysis that must occur before commercial mining can proceed. The Sierra Club says that review should take place before the land swap. Gosar's bill does it after the land deal is done.

Paul Gosar: If I'm a businessman, you know, I should have to detail that NEPA, is the federal government and the taxpayer going to pay for the NEPA, there's no excusing for allowing businesses not to pick that up. That's what is going to happen. They don't get to sidestep any of the ecological aspects. From the army corps of engineers to the interior to water. What happens instead of the taxpayer paying, the industry will pick it up. I think we're fiscally responsible when we do the bill this way.

Steve Goldstein: Sandy, why does it matter when the environmental study take place, as long as it takes place before commercial mining proceeds?

Sandy Bahr: Well, first of all you can call it the national environmental policy act process but that doesn't make it so. The whole idea behind that law is for the government to look before it leaps. These are public lands, the thing that representative Gosar seems to forget. These are public lands, land that's president Eisenhower protected from mining over 55 years ago now. And this is not a minor issue. We should have a full analysis, a mining plan of operation. We should know what they're going to do, how they're going to mine, where they're going to store the tailings, how they're going to process this ore. There are huge issues none of which has been answered and yet they want to go ahead with the land exchange. If, in the national environmental policy act process, you find there are devastating impacts. It's not like the land -- it's reversed. So, what we've said look at it ahead of time and make sure the taxpayers aren't getting ripped off, which they clearly are in this proposed land exchange, resolution copper stands to make billions of dollars if there's the amount of copper they say there is, and the taxpayers get chump change and, of course, they lose Oak Flat. That's just a bad deal.

Steve Goldstein: Do you think the government has heard enough from the public on their concerns?

Sandy Bahr: No, that's the another thing about the national environmental policy act. They would have public meetings and outreach and opportunity for comment but now, everyone has to send comments or testimony back to congress and, you know, they have limited opportunities to comment here in Arizona unless they can catch representative Gosar.

Steve Goldstein: Sandy, finally in this exchange, Arizona gets land for conservation. Why is it not land we should be excited about getting in the exchange?

Sandy Bahr: Well, a lot of the parcels are relatively small and even though parcels that have more ecological value on the San Pedro is threatened by nearby development. That was one the issues. There's a mine BHP, that owns land nearby as well. We think it's not a fair deal at all. It's not a good deal. But, of course, there's been no in-depth analysis at all either. And appears that Resolution Copper doesn't want that kind of in-depth analysis because they find out that the lands aren't as valuable as they say and that the taxpayers aren't getting ripped off and the environmental impacts are significant. Not to mention, they're ignoring the concerns of the tribes and insulting the tribes in a lot of ways.

Steve Goldstein: Sandy Bahr of the Sierra club, thanks for joining us on "Horizon." And that's "Horizon" for tonight. I'm Steve Goldstein, filling in for Ted Simons. Have a great night.

Sandy Bahr: Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter;

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