Bush’s Last Assault: Debate over Grand Canyon mining sparks an ugly presidential moment (Part 4 of 6)

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (shot from the Bright Angel Point at the North Rim). Courtesy StefanB.

The Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size, stratified and eye-catching rock layers, and more than 227 river miles. Most of us have stories to tell about visiting this icon of America. Mine began at the Canyon’s edge in Arizona while camping in the Kaibab National Forest in November. We were treated to a 3 a.m. Leonid meteor storm that only arrives once a century.

New actions by the Bush administration may imperil this magical place for generations to come. This past summer, the Bush administration’s Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, refused to protect the Grand Canyon from thousands of uranium mining claims that could poison the Colorado River, a vital water source for 25 million people from Las Vegas to Los Angeles to San Diego. Led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the House Natural Resources Committee passed a resolution that ordered the lands immediately around the Grand Canyon be withdrawn from consideration for mining.

Under Section 203 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, if the House Natural Resources Committee passes such a resolution, the Secretary of the Interior must use his authority under the same law to invoke an “emergency withdrawal” of the threatened lands to prevent mining claims from being established on them.

You know how President Bush’s appointee responded? Instead of taking the action asked for by the committee, the Bush Administration responded by proposing to eliminate altogether the federal rule requiring that he implement the resolution. In effect, Kempthorne is attempting to unilaterally revoke a federal statute that he is obligated to enforce! Moreover, he limited public comment on his proposal to 15 days (which concluded October 27th).

We now expect this rule change to be finalized before President Bush leaves office. This means that President Obama’s Interior Secretary will not be able to take emergency actions to keep mining claims away from National Parks, National Monuments, and other sensitive lands. If it can happen at the Grand Canyon, other public lands that are threatened in extreme cases of emergency by mineral development will have no recourse to protection either.

photo: Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (shot from the Bright Angel Point at the North Rim). Courtesy StefanB.