Remarks from Mather Point at the Rim of the Grand Canyon

Office of the Secretary
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Well thank you Mr. Secretary for your continued leadership on vital conservation issues and John if I had not seen all the National Park Service signs coming out here I would think this was a typical BLM managed area. For anyone who loves the region knows the history of the west is written in water and the lower Colorado River is a visible reminder of that history. As the federal land manager for much of this area the Bureau of Land Management's concern is not only for the lower Colorado River but also for the ground water under the land, which is critical to sustaining life in this arid landscape. Today's announcement marks a conservation milestone because it provides additionally assurances for ground water protection. To allow the potential for expanded mining without completing our analysis of the impacts could damage this fragile landscape forever. In short without additional science and analysis, we are unable to assess possible risk, and to adequately protect the Grand Canyon, the surrounding lands, and the ground water that is relied upon downstream by users of major populated areas in the western United States. Having spent most of my career in the west where I have worked closely with the mining industry, I want to recognize that mining is a central component of the Bureau of Land Management's multiple use mandate. However, multiple use does not mean every acre managed by the Bureau of Land Management is appropriate for every use. Mining is an important part of the country's energy strategy and we acknowledge this area's potential for high grade uranium. The BLM and the U.S. Forrest Service will continue to recognize valid existing rights of mining claims already staked in this area. The question for us now is how do we responsibly move forward to ensure adequate protection of the Grand Canyon, the surrounding lands, and our ground water resources. As Secretary Salazar has said our actions today do not preclude future mining activities on the lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon. We have not yet made a final decision and when a final decision is made it will be subject to valid existing rights. Quite simply what we are doing today gives us more time. The Grand Canyon and surrounding lands formed over millions of years and we owe it to future generations to spend the time necessary to complete our analysis of the issues that were before us before taking steps that might irrevocable change this magnificent landscape and now it is my pleasure to turn the podium over to National Parks Service Director John Jarvis.

What a beautiful day. Nice little breeze, nice sun, not too hot. It is obvious to everyone here that the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park is a crown jewel among the national parks and it's also a world heritage site. So we have a responsibility not only to American citizens, but also to citizens of the world that this place be protected for future generations. It is also the home of the Native Americans, it is the home of species that are endangered, and it is the destination for millions of people from around the world. It is also a sustainable economic engine for the state of Arizona and the surrounding communities generating over 700 million dollars annually into the state economy. The National Park Service is a cooperator in this process and has been working very closely with the Bureau of Land Management. We have been an active participant in the decision to withdraw the lands temporarily while this EIS is completed. We think this is an extraordinarily important decision to hold things in a status quo until we can complete the EIS. We are also supportive of the identification of the full withdrawal as the preferred alternative in the EIS. Our support is based in part on the desire to protect the visitor experience, both within and as they approach the Grand Canyon National Park. We believe that the withdrawal of these lands will help protect the visual qualities, air quality, and the experiences critical to enjoyment of over four and half million visitors that come from around the world. Protecting visual qualities is an essential component of the visitor experience. Safety is also a concern of ours and we felt that there was a potential conflict between increased mining and industrial hauling and the recreational traffic in the area. The majority of well the potential withdrawal here that was encompassed by the CIS was supported by Coconino County. Very supportive of the preferred alternative and the board of supervisors recently passed a resolution in opposition to uranium mining in the proximity to Grand Canyon National Park and its watersheds. The Canyon is of deep spiritual value to our first Americans who called this place home and we are very supportive of their support of the tribes who felt a full withdrawal would protect the land, the water, the people and the wild life. Grand Canyon National Park is home to six wildlife and one plant species that are categorized as threatened and endangered. Including the magnificent California Condor, Humpback Chub, all of which could be negatively affected by increased mining activity. Yesterday I took the opportunity to hike down the Herman trail to Dripping Springs and saw this extraordinary little oasis half way down the Canyon wall and I know that these springs are the capillaries to this great artery of the Colorado River. They feed and protect the wild life and the incredible variety in these extraordinary canyons. So our support for this action is based on the sensitivity of those springs and the wildlife that rely on that and ultimately the potential impact of the Colorado River. There are significant unknowns in the transport of radioactive materials from this type of mining activity into the water table and eventually, potentially into the Colorado River. And from our perspective from the National Parks Service when there are significant unknowns you err on the side of conservation. So that gives ourselves time and invest in the research over the long term. So we that managers down the road will be in a better position to make better informed decisions about potential impacts to the Grand Canyon and to this extraordinary place. There is really only one Grand Canyon and it is recognized worldwide as symbol of conservation and a sustainable economic engine for Arizona and the United States. We thank the Secretary for this decision and the support of Congressman Grijalva with all of his long support here. The tribes, the community, everyone for your support to this point. So now is with great pleasure I get to introduce the Director of USGS. Dr. Marcia McNutt.

Well thank you. Thanks for everyone whose here today to join us in this announcement. The USGS is very proud of its tradition for providing unbiased scientific information that can inform sound policy. Our scientific investigations have helped inform the Secretary' decisions today. The USGS advised the Secretary on several aspects associated with this decision. The first was on the likely magnitude on the uranium ore deposit in the land's being considered for development or withdrawal. Since the early 1950's uranium mining has extracted a total of about a half years worth of uranium consumption given the current rate at which the U.S. consumes this resource and our best estimate of the in ground resource is that it would meet domestic needs for about six years given our current rate of consumption and this uranium resource that is being considered for withdrawal is but 12% of the total uranium resource in all of Northern Arizona. We also considered the impact of past mining on water quality and on remobilization of contaminates. It was on this topic that the least in known because there has been little monitoring of active mines in the past to understand their impacts on soil and water in order to anticipate what would be the expected effects if mining were to be dramatically expanded. But we believe with valid existing claims likely to be developed in the future we will have an important opportunity to fill this knowledge gap. I believe it is very fitting that Secretary Salazar mentioned in his opening remarks John Wesley Powell the great explorer of the American West who went on to become the second director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Powel more than a hundred years ago predicted that the most valuable resource in the American west would not be any mineral resource in the ground, but that it would water. The next steps the Secretary has identified today are in keeping with Powel's concern for this life giving resource. After all, the uranium has been here for millions of years and it will still be here to meet our needs once we can assure the safety for the water supply. Thank you and now back to Secretary Salazar.

Thank you Marcia, and John, and Bob Abbey. I just want to recognize a few other people who are here. Diane Suqualla and James Uqualla from our tribes here in Northern Arizona. Give them a round of applause. Former representative Ann Kirkpatrick who is in the back. I'll wave to you Ann. Good to see you again. The mayor of the great city of Flagstaff, Sarah Presler. Thank you for joining us and a number of other organizations and stake holders. Thank you all for being here at Mather Point today. Now what I would like to do is turn it over to questions from the press who is here first and then we will go from press here to I think there is some press also on the line if they are still on the line. So any questions from you.

Claims going on right now, does this mean they have to stop and leave at this point?

Well when we two years ago, the question was what does this mean for existing claims and the answer to that is two years ago when we entered the temporary order which is essentially limited by two years. There were about 10,000 claims; there are still now over 3,000 valid existing claims in this area. So now those valid existing claims will be honored as our requirement under the law. So that is why when we speak about the possibility that there will be eight to eleven new mines in the future in this area that is still a reality because we have to honor and will honor existing claims. But without having the preferred alternative in place essentially what would end up happening is that you would have thousands or tens of thousands claims continue to sprout up across the million acres that are being withdrawn. So valid existing claims will be honored but the essence of the preferred alternative it is what is the ultimate decision after we complete the process that will make sure that there are no additional claims that are staked in the million acres. Yes ma'am

I wanted to know if what this means for current claims and clean up of tailings as well?

I am going to have Director Bob Abbey respond to that question. Bob

Well again as the Secretary indicated, we do have a little over three thousand existing claims that have been filed and are currently updated as far as people paying their annual assessment. That does not necessarily mean that each of those claims have valid existing rights. They are just claims that have been filed. In the future we would determine through validity examinations if we receive any kind notices for exploration or money plant operation we would conduct a validity examination on those claims to determine whether or not they do have valid existing rights. If our determination is that they do and such mining could exist could go forward. As far as past mining, we are continuing to work with state regulatory agencies and others to do our best to clean up past legacies of mining in this area. We continue to work very closely with the National Parks Service, the US Forest Service to make strides in that area. I think over the next couple of years you will continue to see progress.

Let me I don't know if we are getting the good cell phone coverage here in the Grand Canyon, but is there a question from some of the press on the phone?

For those parties on the phone to ask your question please press star one.

Is anybody pressing star one.

Yes we do have two questions in queue one moment. The first question is coming from Nela, Los Angeles Times. Your line is open.

Has been going on for the last two years during this moratorium and the other question is whether you expect the House of Representatives to introduce any kind of legislation to abrogate this decision or change it in any way.

On the first question with respect to claims that have been filed the normal processes of the Federal Land Policy Management Act and the BLM and the 19 all of the 1872 mining levels that is the legal framework which guides whether or not you have a valid existing claim. As I said two years ago there were some over 10,000 claims now there are about 3,000. As those processes have continued to move forward, there are requirements in terms of assessments as well as other activities on the ground to keep those claims alive. Obviously there are now only 3,000 so those processes from the BLM have continued to work. In terms of your second question of whether or not there will be Congressional action that will try to undo this decision you know it is hard to predict what the Congress will do. But I will say this that at the end of the day. What drives us to this decision as I started out in my comments is first the importance of protecting the artery, the life blood of water on the Colorado River, which is so important to the States, and communities, and Tribes, and farmers, and ranchers who depend on the water of Colorado River. Secondly, our conservation agenda here is so important to the long term view of the economics of the United States of America. When you think about the millions of jobs that are created across America through our natural wonders as well as through other aspects of our heritage tourism that ought to be what carries the day. What we are doing here is moving forward in a most thoughtful way having the input of the best earth science agency USGS relative to what we know and what we don't know and by essentially allowing more time to be able to develop the science and the facts. It is a good move for the country. So we don't know what the Congress will do but hopefully they will be supportive of our effort here.

I will take one more question over the phone.

Hi Secretary Salazar. Thank you for including us the phone component of this press conference. I just to make sure I understood this. So currently there is no uranium mining on these one million acres, you will accept no new claims until the end of December, and your preference is that these one million acres are never mined for uranium is that correct?

Ann the thank you for being on the call today. We had hoped to see you here in the Grand Canyon here at Mather Point it is a beautiful place. Hopefully we will see you here at some point in the very near future. The order today does not affect existing uranium operations those that are out there are recognized as valid existing operations and claims but what it does do today is that keeps in place what essentially has been the requirement that no new claims be allowed. That order which I put into place two years ago would have expired on July the 20th Now with this order which is an emergency order it will not expire until the end of the year and by that point in time the record of decision which will be the final decision of BLM and Department of Interior will be in place. And that final decision will move forward in the normal process. The preferred alternative that will be identified in that record of decision which I have directed the BLM today to include in there is a preferred decision is that no more uranium mining claims will be staked in these one million acres for the twenty year duration that is being dealt with in the record of decision. Thank you all very much for being here today I appreciate your time. Thank you.

Last edited 4/26/2016