Floating Through Time and Splendor in The Grand Canyon

The vistas are awe-inspiring. Helped by the monsoon rains and Grand Canyon winds, we could see rock layers on the opposite rim. Earthjustice is working to keep it that way.

The Grand Canyon.
(Mike Liu / Shutterstock)
The Grand Canyon. (Mike Liu / Shutterstock)

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This is my first day back in the office after a week rafting and hiking in the Grand Canyon, a week spent marveling at the canyon’s majesty and trying to grasp its lessons of the earth’s history. The canyon wren serenaded us each day, and cicadas and fluttering bats each night. We floated through layers of time, eventually reaching Pre-Cambrian schist and granite, the bowels of the earth. As we climbed out and heard a cacophony of languages spoken, it gave meaning to Ken Burns’ depiction of our national parks as our Louvre, our contribution to civilization.

The vistas are awe-inspiring. Helped by the monsoon rains and Grand Canyon winds, we could see rock layers on the opposite rim. Earthjustice is working to keep it that way.

Our litigation to enforce the Clean Air Act has led Arizona and neighboring states to adopt plans for cleaning up pollution that fouls the air in the Grand Canyon. Some of worst polluters, like the San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico and Reid Gardner coal plant in Nevada, have committed to shut down coal plant units and clean up others, and proposals are on the table to do the same at other dirty coal plants in the region.

The Colorado River is the lifeline of the Grand Canyon, not to mention for millions of people on the Colorado Plateau and downstream who depend on it. With rampant droughts and growing demands for water, numerous proposals are on the table to divert Colorado River water to Colorado’s Front Range for cities, agriculture, and oil and gas development. Earthjustice is committed to fighting this water grab. Last year, we had a stunning success in blocking a private developer’s rush to divert more than 16 percent of the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado, to pump the water over 500 miles from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir to the Denver area. The developer remains committed to this project, and many others are in the works, but we will be there to thwart these plans.

Earthjustice is also defending a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining on nearly a million acres adjacent to the park. The moratorium reversed the Bush administration’s plans to jump start a revival of uranium mining in the area. We have intervened in all of the challenges to the moratorium, and earlier this year the district court issued a thorough, well-reasoned decision rejecting the industry’s challenge to the Secretary of Interior’s authority to withdraw the public lands from mining claims. This initial victory in the litigation puts us in good stead to sustain the moratorium.

Spending this time in the Canyon made me so proud of how Earthjustice empowers people fighting to preserve the Grand Canyon for future generations. Our clients range from national groups like the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association to groups bound to this place, like the Grand Canyon Trust, San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Havasupai Tribe whose homeland is in the heart of the Canyon. By bringing our legal skills and strategic experience to bear, Earthjustice gives meaning to Margaret Mead’s admonition:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


Patti is a senior attorney of the Northwest regional office in Seattle, where she works to fight efforts to turn the Pacific Northwest into a fossil fuel export hub. She also leads Earthjustice's pesticide work and efforts to preserve access to the courts and legal remedies. Her litigation experience includes notable successes in safeguarding the region’s old-growth forests, restoring Pacific salmon, and more.