RELATED, 4/3: Commentary by Jeneiene Schaffer
TUCSON & FLAGSTAFF -- It was a day of action for the common good and against mining excess for US Reps. Giffords and Grijalva.
Giffords (D-AZ8) announced a new agreement with the US Forest Service on the Rosemont Mine proposal EIS process.
Grijalva (D-AZ7) held a congressional hearing in Flagstaff about uranium mining on the Kaibab National Forest near the Grand Canyon.
The 1872 Mining Law must be repealed or seriously reformed, and I'm proud of our US Reps.
First, the excerpts from Giffords' statement at a noon press conference in Tucson: "I am pleased to report today that the Forest Service has agreed to dramatically open up this process and give Southern Arizonans the opportunity to have their voices heard. This is a clear win for openness and transparency in government and I thank the Forest Service for its positive action in this regard.
On Thursday, March 27, 2008 I met with Corbin Newman, Regional Forester of the U.S. Forest Service, and Jeanine Derby, Forest Supervisor of the Coronado National Forest. We met at my request so I could personally express my concerns about how we can provide more opportunities for public comment on the proposed Rosemont Mine.
The proposed Rosemont Mine has been controversial – to put it mildly – from the beginning. I share the deep concerns of many in our community about the mine’s potential impacts on our water, air and quality of life. As a result, Southern Arizonans must have sufficient time and opportunity to make their voices heard. We need to make sure that we can fully identify the issues that concern us.
Opportunities for the public to comment on the mine take place during the preparation of what the Forest Service calls an Environment Impact Statement. This document is required by law and it is a key part of the agency’s evaluation of the mine proposal.
Unfortunately, the process has gotten off to a difficult start. Over the last two weeks, since the process was first announced, several events have undermined public perception of the Forest Service as an impartial facilitator.
It was troubling to me personally to learn from press reports about the police being called to one meeting and having the audience “stacked” by the mining company in another. Regardless of the details associated with these events, I believe significant steps are necessary to restore public confidence, both in the Forest Service and in the EIS process.
This is why, I am pleased we have agreed to the following six adjustments to the Forest Service’s course of action regarding the Rosemont Mine (proposal):
· The public scoping process will be extended from the original 30 days to 120 days. The closing date for the public scoping process will be extended to July 11th, 2008. This expanded window will ensure that the public has ample opportunity to learn about the EIS process and provide their comments to the Forest Service. It also demonstrates that the Forest Service is serious about collecting public comments.
· Three additional open-house meetings will be scheduled. To ensure ample opportunity for the public to educate itself about the EIS process and provide comments, three (3) additional open-house meetings will be scheduled. One meeting has already been scheduled for April 5 in Vail and another is in the planning stages for Sahuarita. A third will be scheduled in the Sonoita area in the coming weeks.
· All future open-house meetings will begin with an explanation of the process. The remaining open-house meetings will begin with an oral and written explanation of the process. This introduction will provide an overview of the EIS process; the purpose of the open-house meeting format; the type of comments being solicited; the role of the Forest Service; and the identification of officials from the Forest Service, Augusta Resources, and other relevant organizations in attendance at the meeting. The introduction will also explain that the open-house is not intended as a public hearing, and that public hearings will be held on dates and at locations which will be announced at each open house.
· Three public hearings will be scheduled. In addition to the open-house meetings mentioned above, the Forest Service will also schedule three (3) public hearings during the 120 day comment period to allow Southern Arizonans to express their views in an open public forum. These three hearings will be held in Central Tucson, the Green Valley/Sahuarita area, and the Sonoita/Patagonia area.
· The selection process for the EIS contractor will be reviewed. Concerns have been raised about the process employed by the Forest Service to select SWCA as the primary contractor to perform the EIS, and that firm’s ability to evaluate the Rosemont proposal objectively. To address these concerns, the Forest Service has agreed to conduct a review of the selection process with the participation of a senior member of my staff and a representative of the public.
· A community work group will be established to participate in the EIS process. A work group will be convened to provide community and technical input throughout the process. This group will include representatives of appropriate public agencies, members of affected communities, and my staff. The group will be charged with assuring that all specific public concerns relevant to the project are raised and addressed in the EIS.
In closing, let me emphasize that the full involvement of the public is essential in order for any public agency to fulfill its mission.
I also want to acknowledge the significant support from Congressman Raul Grijalva’s office. We agree that Southern Arizonans deserve every opportunity to have input on this important issue."
In Flagstaff today: A hearing on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon had overwhelming support against the mining proposal near one of our Nation’s most well-known icons.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands of the House Natural Resources Committee presided over the hearing.
There were over 200 people in attendance.
Hearing witnesses provided testimony on the Forest Service’s proposal to allow uranium mining. Witnesses included local elected officials, Tribal chairpersons, Grand Canyon area business and environmental representatives and uranium experts.
Recently, information surfaced regarding exploratory drilling for uranium within a few miles of the Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim, a popular tourist attraction and protected area. The drilling is taking place on the Kaibab National Forest under what are known as categorical exclusions from the National Environmental Policy Act with very little environmental review and without public comment or involvement.
Grijalva’s legislation, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act of 2008 (H.R. 5583), will withdraw approximately one million acres near the Grand Canyon from mineral exploration under the 1872 Mining Act.
“Today’s hearing showed the concerns that many of us have about mining, especially near an icon like the Grand Canyon,” Grijalva said. “The support against uranium drilling points to the lack of oversight of the 1872 mining law. This law was passed by Congress at a time when the country was expanding and the government wanted to lure settlers West under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. The law still allows this activity on our public lands and as a result, the clean up of old uranium mine sites in this region has not been adequately dealt with. It is Congress’s responsibility to reform this law that is seriously past its prime.”
The bill would withdraw from mining 628,886 acres in the Kanab Creek area and 112,655 in House Rock Valley managed by Bureau of Land Management, as well as 327,367 acres in the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the Canyon.
The hearing was a joint effort of Grijalva’s subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources. Grijalva was joined by several members of Congress, including Reps. Ed Pastor (D-AZ) and Grace Napolitano (D-CA).