Arizona Congressman Fights Grand Canyon Protections Despite Broad Public Support

Apr 13, 2016

By Center for Western Priorities

Earlier this week, Representative Paul Gosar continued his quest to ensure the gates of the Grand Canyon remain threatened by uranium mining and other industrial development. Not only do Representative Gosar’s actions run counter to the opinion of Arizonans, they would deny northern Arizona the economic benefits that come with protecting the area surrounding the Grand Canyon.

In recent years, dozens of local businesses and organizations have called for the land surrounding the Grand Canyon to be permanently protected. These areas are home to several active uranium mines, which stand in direct conflict with the $711 million dollar economy supported by Grand Canyon National Park and the surrounding public lands. These lands don’t just attract tourism and outdoor recreation dollars, but also provide communities like Flagstaff and Prescott with a competitive advantage to attract businesses and talented employees wanting to live close to where they can play outdoors.

The U.S. Department of the Interior placed a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mines in the region in 2012, and in recent months Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, supported by five local tribes, introduced legislation to permanently protect the Grand Canyon watershed from uranium mining by declaring the surrounding area a national monument. But mining companies and their friends in Congress—including Rep. Gosar—have led attempts to roll back this policy.

On Monday, Representative Gosar held a “dog and pony show” with a cherry-picked a list of invited speakers in Kingman, Arizona to rail against such a proposal. Conveniently not invited were local tribes, outdoor recreation leaders, and the long list of Arizonans who support protecting the greater Grand Canyon area. This event adds to a web of anti-park efforts funded by the Koch brothers. In recent years Koch-funded front groups, such as Prosper Inc., and far right-wing politicians have campaigned to oppose creation of the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument.

Despite all of this, there remains broad support for protecting the gateway to the Grand Canyon. According to a recent poll by the Grand Canyon Trust, eighty percent of likely voters in Arizona support a proposal to protect the Grand Canyon by establishing a national monument. The poll found bipartisan support for a monument, including 65 percent of Arizona Republican voters.

Not only would a national monument protect one of our national treasures, it would spur local economies by increasing tourism and outdoor recreation. An economic analysis commissioned by the Center for Western Priorities found that the area within the proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument currently provides $51 million in economic benefits to northern Arizona each year. This significant economic output could be strengthened by declaring the region a national monument. Two nearby areas saw job growth of 24 and 44 percent in the years following the establishment of monuments.

It is clear that the watershed surrounding one of our national treasures, the Grand Canyon, is increasingly threatened by pollution and development. Instead of holding rigged listening sessions for show, Representative Gosar should listen to the dozens of local businesses, tribes and elected officials calling to permanently protect the Grand Canyon watershed.

Photo credit: Kristen Caldon