What a special joy it is to visit the Grand Canyon. It’s awe-inspiring to view the majestic gorge, the powerful river, the gorgeous sunsets … and the uranium mines.

Say what?

They’re not there yet, but our Bushified National Forest Service has ever-so-quietly issued a permit allowing a British mining company to explore for uranium adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. Vane Minerals Corp. will be allowed to drill seven exploratory shafts in the Kaibab National Forest, which abuts the canyon.

This dirty deal was a sneak attack on local residents, environmental groups, tribal officials, and park supporters-all of whom oppose the effort to pock public lands with uranium mines. In addition to the sheer inappropriateness of the plan, locals recall the cancers suffered by those who worked in previous uranium mines on nearby reservations. They also have concerns about uranium trucks highballing through the area and about contamination of the region’s scarce water supplies.

The Forest Service ignored these realities and gave the corporation a green light without conducting an environmental review and, worse yet, without holding a public hearing. The agency arbitrarily ruled that Vane could be “categorically excluded” from the normal review process because its exploratory drilling would take less than a year. Never mind that mining companies can do some serious damage in a year.

Meanwhile, Congress has been dillydallying with an overdue reform of the 1872 mining law that lets corporations run roughshod over public land, putting their profiteering interests above the public interest. To learn more about this reform effort and to see a report on the impact of uranium mining in this unique region, connect with the Environmental Working Group at www.ewg.org.

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit www.jimhightower.com.