BLM changes mining rules to include small-scale operators

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Bureau of Land Management is changing its rules, requiring that even small-scale hardrock miners on federal claims guarantee they can clean up any mess they might leave.

The agency released the new regulations last week. They would require that small-scale miners provide a cleanup bond before mining. As it stands now, miners who disturb less than five acres per year do not have to provide a cleanup bond.

''The financial guarantee (reclamation bond) would have to cover 100 percent of the estimated cost for BLM to perform the reclamation according to the reclamation plan,'' a summary of the guidelines notes.

The BLM also no longer will rely upon guarantees pledging the assets of the mining companies.

''Corporate guarantees would no longer be acceptable as financial assurance for reclamation performance,'' the agency said.

The rules follow the preferred alternative that BLM outlined in a final Environmental Impact Statement on new hardrock mining regulations last month.

The new rules take effect Jan. 20.

Congress tried to shape the new rules with a rider on the annual Agriculture Department spending bill earlier this year.

Sens. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Harry Reid, D-Nev. proposed the rider, which said the new BLM rules had to follow recommendations made by a 1999 report from the National Academy of Sciences.

The academy report concluded that there was little reason for sweeping revisions, Reid's office said. The BLM, however, said the academy report recommended ''tighter hardrock mining regulation and called for more financial responsibility by mining operators.''

In the end, the rider was moved to the annual Interior Department spending bill and was changed to say simply that the new BLM rules couldn't be ''inconsistent'' with the academy report.

''The bureau feels that we are in compliance with that,'' said Gordon Hansen, with the agency's legislative affairs office in Washington.

In the new rules, the agency also changed how it decides which miners must file mining plans. Currently, miners that disturb less than five acres must only give the agency notice that they expect to mine. Those who expect to disturb more than five acres must submit a complete plan.

Under the proposed new rules, the acreage wouldn't matter; rather, the volume of material mined would set the standard. Exploration or mining operations that expect to move more than 1,000 cubic yards of material annually would have to file plans.

The Minerals Policy Center, a Washington-based environmental group, said data from the federal Environmental Protection Agency showed that the hardrock mining industry released more pollutants than any other.

The data supported the need for the new regulations released Tuesday, the group said.

''These rules would reduce toxic mining pollution, and ensure that mining operators, not the taxpayer, pay the billions of dollars required to clean up toxic mine sites,'' the group said.

The National Mining Association, an industry group, said the EPA's own notes on the data recognize that toxins released aren't necessarily dangerous.

''It is important that people know typically 85 percent to 99 percent of what metals mines report is the large quantity of naturally occurring inorganic metals that remain in low concentration in ordinary rock that is moved, stored, processed and managed at the mine site,'' said Richard Lawson, NMA president, in a news release.

BLM said hardrock mining regulations hadn't been reviewed since 1980. The agency started its upgrade in 1991, but delayed the process while Congress debated changes in the mining laws.


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