Grand Canyon site of renewed mining rush
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Environmental groups such as Earthworks, a nonprofit that focuses on hard-rock mining, have called for the law to be updated. They have an ally in Rep. Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat who since 1985 has been attempting to change the law. But even with a majority Democrat congress, his efforts have faced considerable opposition, particularly from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whose home state of Nevada depends on mining.
For their part, Vane Minerals, the British company that is drilling near the canyon's South Rim, believes that their operations will have minimal environmental impact. At a hearing in Flagstaff, Ariz., of the US House subcommittee on national parks and public lands, Vane's Chief Operating Officer Kris Hefton pointed out that the uranium ore found near the Grand Canyon is found in compact breccia pipes, which unlike other types of deposits, can be mined in a small area.
During the West's first uranium boom, in the 1940s and 50s, many of the miners, whose ranks were largely drawn from American Indian nations, fell ill after being exposed to high levels of radon gas. In 1990 the US Department of Justice instituted the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program, which to date has paid out more than $1.1. billion to workers, as well as those living downwind of a nuclear weapons test site in Nevada.
"I'm not talking about the industry of 50 years ago that impacted the Navajo Nation or others in the Four Corners area," said Hefton. "We ask you to judge our industry on its current performance rather than on past, unrelated events."