Bush administration considering overturning new mining rules

Posted: Monday, June 11, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Bush administration is considering overturning a last-minute Clinton administration rule setting new mining regulations, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Opponents to the Clinton era rule include Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the second-most powerful Democrat in the U.S. Senate's new majority. Overthrowing the rule could affect more than 100 operators on federal land in Alaska.

Under the old regulations, only larger mines had to obtain a bond to guarantee that the land would be ''reclaimed,'' that is naturally contoured and covered with topsoil after mining was complete. And the miner could pledge corporate assets as backing to obtain the bond.

If a mine limited its current working area to five acres or less, no bond was required.

The new regulations say all miners must obtain a bond, regardless of acreage, and corporate assets can't be used as backing. The rules also may outlaw the kind of bonding pool that many small miners in Alaska use to meet the requirements.

Reid led a fight to limit the Clinton administration's mining regulations last year.

While Reid didn't succeed in blocking the rules, he did manage to pass a law that said the new regulations had to be consistent with recommendations from a National Academy of Sciences report on the nation's mining laws. That report recommended few changes.

After the final rules were published on Jan. 20, the day Clinton left office, mining groups and others filed suit. They said, in part, that the rules violated Reid's legislation.

In March, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton proposed to suspend the rules.

''BLM has concerns about substantial policy and legal issues raised in the lawsuits and wants to resolve such concerns before implementing a new regulatory program,'' the agency said in explaining why it proposed the suspension.

Steve Borell, president of the Alaska Miners Association in Anchorage, said he ''absolutely'' counts Reid as an ally, but is more concerned at the moment about which way the administration will fall on the new rules.

If the administration sticks with Clinton's rules, Reid and others could try to limit them legislatively, as they did last year, Borell said. But ''it's clearly more difficult to get something like that through when there are so many people on the Democratic side that would go along with the Minerals Policy Center blindly without looking at the facts,'' he told the News-Miner.

Steve D'Esposito, president of the pro-reform Minerals Policy Center in Washington, said the facts show that the mining industry too often fails to clean up public land it has used.

''Nevada has always been held up as a model of modern mining,'' D'Esposito said. ''Senator Reid has always been able to raise that banner in the fight over these revisions.''

But several dozen mining Nevada operations in his state went broke during the past three years and have been unable to clean up their sites, D'Esposito said. ''I think that could change things.''

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