Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced a bill Monday that would establish a new national monument to protect over 1.7 million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon.
Grijalva and tribal leaders across northern Arizona held a press conference in Flagstaff to introduce the bill. Titled the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act, the legislation would preserve and restore sacred Native American lands, the watershed and 1.7 million acres of land surrounding the park.
According to a statement from Grijalva's office, it "permanently protects the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims; protects tribal sacred cultural sites; promotes a more collaborative regional approach between tribal nations and federal land managers; protects commercial and recreational hunting; preserves grazing and water rights; and conserves the Grand Canyon watershed."
The bill represents another step in Grijalva’s crusade against uranium mining. In 2012, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar banned new mining claims for 20 years in the area, and this new bill would make that permanent.
"Mining so close to the Canyon could seriously impair the region’s ecosystems: wreaking havoc on the landscape, drying up critical seeps and springs, disturbing fish and wildlife, and releasing toxic chemicals into the environment," Grijalva said.
Leaders from the Havasupai, Navajo and Hopi communities were in attendance at the conference and also spoke about the cultural and ecological significance of this land.
Grijalva’s efforts have faced stiff opposition from Republicans and the mining industry. At the press conference, Don Martin of the Mohave Sportsmen Club also criticized the effort and said he was skeptical of the proposal.
"Anything that creates a national monument up there on the Grand Canyon is totally not needed, not wanted," he said. "It's just another ploy to lock things up from the American public."
The bill will be filed in the U.S. House of Representatives next week. In an op-ed published in the New York Times on Monday, former Senator Mark Udall of Colorado said that, should the bill fail to progress, President Obama should use his powers under the Antiquities Act to declare the national monument himself.