As ThinkProgress reported yesterday, Republican members of Congress have been waging a war to open 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon to uranium mining. Last week Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took one of the last steps in withdrawing the area from new mining claims. But in response, Republicans have introduced H.R. 3155, the Northern Arizona Mining Continuity Act of 2011, to keep the decision from moving forward. The issue has become “one of the top legislative priorities of Republicans in Congress” as Energy and Environment Daily reported this morning.
At a hearing yesterday on the bill in the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Public Lands, Republicans called a witness to the stand who is a retired United States Geological Survey scientist. Dr. Karen Wenrich noted in her testimony supporting the bill that the Bureau of Land Management has “vastly overstated the environmental harm caused by past and potential uranium development.”
However, under questioning from Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), it became clear through public Securities and Exchange Commission filings that Wenrich stands to make $225,000 by selling 61 uranium claims that she owns only if the Interior Department’s withdrawal does not go forward.
GRIJALVA: Ms. Wenrich, let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you stand to benefit personally if the Department’s proposed withdrawal is terminated? In other words, would you benefit financially if the bill you are testifying on were enacted and became law?
WENRICH: Just like everybody in northern Arizona I stand to benefit from having a job. But if you’re thinking that that’s going to affect my testimony I might point out to you that I am a research scientist with a PhD, I have done almost all of this research prior to this.
GRIJALVA: Ok but I’m asking about if…well Mr. Chairman, let me just submit for the record copies of a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by American Energy Fields, Inc. that states that the witness will receive at least $225,000 for selling 61 uranium claims that she currently owns in northern Arizona once the withdrawal is terminated. Is that SEC filing correct, Ms. Wenrich?
WENRICH: I think you need to give me the courtesy of explaining the fact that everything that I have done in this research was prior to me owning those claims that I started two years ago. All research is based on previous work that was done long prior to this when I was a government scientist and when I worked for the International Atomic Energy Agency as a scientist. I believe in giving all the facts and I challenge you to find where my facts are erroneous. So I think whatever my career opportunities are irrelevant to what I’m presenting here.
GRIJALVA: Question: is the filing correct or not?
WENRICH: I just said it was correct.
GRIJALVA: It was?
WENRICH: Yes, it is correct.
This is the third time in the last three years that Wenrich has been sought as a witness by Republicans (she also appeared before the committee in 2008 and 2009). This time around, her financial stake in the withdrawal was readily apparent after a June 2011 report went into the issue more in depth.
The overwhelming efforts to open up the lands around the Grand Canyon to uranium mining is just one example of how Republicans in Congress are trading our public lands for corporate profits. Other instances include the giveaway of the world’s third-largest copper deposit to a mining company that will pay no royalties, a bill to let go of some of the nation’s wildest places, and the GOP’s continued defense of subsidies for oil and gas companies that have already accrued more than $100 billion this year.
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