Nowhere is the "enormous strain" on the national parks greater than here at the nation's most famous park. Ironically, at a time of the Grand Canyon National Park's greatest need for a latter-day Roosevelt to ride to the rescue, McCain is nowhere to be found.
There has been a recent dramatic increase in mining claims on uranium-rich federal lands adjacent to the park. And there is now growing concern that radioactive mining waste could contaminate the park and also seep into the Colorado River, which provides drinking water to more than 25 million people. While out on the hustings, McCain has been pushing his plan to build more than 100 nuclear power plants over the next 50 years, as one possible answer to U.S. dependency on foreign oil. So, it appears that, rather than trying to forge a nuclear energy policy that also protects the park and the river, McCain has opted to vanish from the controversy now raging in his home state.
In the one known instance where McCain has been directly involved with state uranium mining issues, he did little more than listen to complaints from the Navajo Nation. The group's representatives were in Washington last year and wanted his help in cleaning up a Cold War-era radioactive waste site. But the Navajo Nation says the senator did not respond to their request. It was only after Oversight Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) held a hearing in October that a comprehensive clean-up plan for the reservation was prepared. A series in The Los Angeles Times, "Blighted Homeland," had spurred Waxman's investigation.
For more than six months, McCain has refused to meet with elected officials, Indian leaders, concerned environmentalists and other stakeholders trying to develop a plan to protect the park and the Colorado River from a second uranium boom that could leave the area again exposed to potentially dangerous byproducts - even as radioactive debris from the 1950s and '60s remains untreated. In fact, the usually politically cautious municipal water utilities in Nevada and Southern California are also now urging a careful approach to new uranium mining that could pollute the river.
"McCain has an historic record of caring about the Grand Canyon," said Don Hancock, director of nuclear waste programs for the Southwest Research and Information Center, an Albuquerque environmental group, "but he's been absent about this discussion about uranium development around the Grand Canyon,"
A Roosevelt Republican Turns
Early in his Congressional career, McCain pushed through legislation restricting aircraft flights in the Grand Canyon to keep the natural quiet. In what he calls one of his proudest achievements, McCain joined the late Arizona Democratic Rep. Morris K. Udall to set aside 1.4 million acres of Arizona desert as wilderness. But McCain"s claim to Roosevelt-style environmentalism has been badly bruised by his silence on uranium mining near the park and on the Navajo Nation.
"McCain gave us hope that he might be a Teddy Roosevelt type of Republican," said Roger Clark, air and water director for The Grand Canyon Trust, a Flagstaff, Ariz., environmental group. "Since the beginning of his run for president, including 2000, that has kind of crumbled."
t r u t h o u t | McCain Absent in Debate Over Uranium Mining