Leaked Emails Show 'Grossly Overestimated' Environmental Report to Back Up Mining Ban

Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee are demanding answers from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about leaked emails showing that the administration lacked scientific justification for blocking uranium mining on one million acres of previously designated federal lands in Arizona.

The emails between National Park Service (NPS) officials include statements such as "my personal and professional opinion is that the potential impacts stated in the DEIS as [sic] grossly overestimated and even then they are minor to negligible" and "there exists no information we could find that would [suggest] how contamination of park waters might physically occur." DEIS stands for Draft Environmental Impact Statement, being discussed in the emails by hydrologists.

"The DEIS goes to great lengths in an attempt to establish impacts to water resources from uranium mining. It fails to do so, but instead creates enough confusion and obfuscation of hydrogeologic principles to create the illusion that there could be adverse impacts if uranium mining occurred," states another email.

The Interior Department announced the 20-year ban on Jan. 9, negating a compromise that had been previously worked out between mining companies and environmental groups. The administration cited the protection of drinking water sources as the reason.

"This is obviously a touchy case where the hard science doesn't strongly support a policy position," another email says. "Probably the best way to 'finesse' this would be fall back on the 'precautionary principle' and take the position that in absence of even more complete certainty that there is no connection between uranium mines and regional ground water, we need to be cautions [sic]??"

Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, fired off a letter to Salazar today over the "legitimate concern that the Obama Administration has elevated politics over sound science by initiating and taking this action."

The committee requested all correspondence between the then-superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park and the director of the Grand Canyon National Park Science Center back in April 2009, but nearly 400 pages were withheld "under FOIA's deliberative process exemption."

"As FOIA section (d) prohibits using FOIA exemptions to withhold information from Congress, we request the Department provide by June 1, 2012 complete and unredacted copies of the previously withheld 399 pages," the congressman wrote.

They also asked Salazar to turn over by June 11 all documentation surrounding the decision to block the uranium mining, including memos and correspondence from the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The chairmen included a two-page-plus addendum detailing instructions and definitions for what should be turned over to the committee and how.

“I am concerned and troubled by the Department of Interior’s decision to proceed with the ban despite the fact their own experts cautioned that scientific evidence was lacking. It is now increasingly apparent that the decision was motivated by politics rather than science as the Administration would have us believe. We feared this was the case when the DOI announced its intentions in January, and it is unfortunate that it has proven to be true," Bishop said in a statement.

“These emails illustrate that Secretary Salazar blatantly ignored the scientific analysis in order to advance the Administration’s narrow-minded political agenda.  The Administration is working hard to protect certain interests, but just not those of the American people,” he added.

The uranium withdrawn from production represents 40 percent of domestic uranium resources; the deposits contain the highest-grade uranium existing in the U.S. Bishop's office noted a report from the American Clean Energy Resources Trust saying that a ban on mining in this region could impact as many as 1,000 jobs and more than $29 million in economic revenue.