A new study found reclaiming abandoned mines and other degraded lands could bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. economy, fight climate change, and create thousands of jobs.
In the report, the National Wildlife Federation identifies more than four million sites, in Arizona and across the country, in need of remediation.
Jessica Arriens, program manager for climate energy policy at the National Wildlife Federation and the report’s co-author, said cleaning them up should benefit the most affected communities.
“The burden of degraded lands really falls heavily on frontline and rural communities,” Arriens pointed out. “And I would argue that makes it even more important that we really think thoughtfully about making sure we’re engaging those communities in the implementation of degraded land reclamation.”
According to the report, every dollar invested in land restoration could return up to $30 in the form of improved food production, water quality and carbon sequestration. The cleanup needs include abandoned mine and oil-and-gas well sites, brownfield and Superfund sites.
Arizona ranks among the top states for its amount of degraded lands.
Scott Garlid, executive director of the Arizona Wildlife Federation, believes the Grand Canyon State has some of the most dangerous sites anywhere.
“The ‘poster child,’ if you want to think of it that way, for why we need to do something is, there’s something over 500 — and I think most estimates say over 800 — abandoned and unremediated uranium mines on the Navajo reservation,” Garlid noted.
Garlid added old uranium mines are especially hazardous because most have not been identified, plugged, or covered, which can spread deadly radiation across vast parts of Arizona and tribal lands.
“It wasn’t the reservations who were asking to put the mines in, in the first place, it was the government and others that got permission to do that,” Garlid emphasized. “Some of it goes back to the Cold War, and some of it goes back to other times. So, I don’t know why, but we haven’t done anything, really, about it.”
The report urged state and federal lawmakers to increase funding for reclamation, saying it will help people and wildlife thrive, address the climate crisis, and restore outdoor recreation opportunities.
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This story was written by Mark Richardson, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.