proposes withdrawal of lands near Grand Canyon, puts on the chopping block and suggests an annual $200 million reclamation fee
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — President Obama’s Interior Department, under the leadership of Coloradan Ken Salazar, is seeking fundamental reform of outdated hardrock mining regulations that have resulted in some of the most long-lasting environmental impacts in the West.
Acid mine drainage has polluted thousands of stream miles around the region, killing fish and requiring costly cleanups.
Along with moving to block uranium mining in watersheds near the Grand Canyon, Salazar in the past few days has proposed to removed hardrock mining from the jurisdiction of the antiquated 1872 mining law and put it under control of the Mineral Leasing Act, which enables the federal government to charge a royalty on oil and gas production on public lands. Click here to get all the info and links for the Grand Canyon draft plan.
It also gives land managers more discretion over where extraction can occur and not occur via lease sales. Placing mining under the Mineral Leasing Act would give land managers like those who administer the forests around the Grand Canyon the same authority over mines.
“The Grand Canyon is our most iconic national treasure, and it’s critical that the Canyon and important ecological areas around it be protected from uranium mining,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for EARTHWORKS, an international mining reform group. “There are many other special places and Western waterways that need protection from the devastation of uranium mining, but the Grand Canyon is a no-brainer,” she said.
The administration has also proposed a reclamation fee on all mining, which would raise $200 million a year towards cleanup of of abandoned mines.
“The choice is between an antiquated mining law that allows mining to occur on public land with no return to the taxpayers, and a leasing system that compensates taxpayers and gives the Interior Department more say over where mining can occur,” said Pagel. “The second option is clearly in Americans’ best interest, and it’s time our public lands were managed for public benefit, instead of industry profits.”
A potential revival of the nuclear industry spurred a new uranium mining rush of sorts in recent years, including in areas close to sensitive Grand Canyon watersheds. In 2009, Salazar issued a temporary halt in 2009 to new claim-staking on nearly 1 million acres of public land surrounding the park.
This week, the administration called for comment on a plan with four alternatives that would apply a 20-year moratorium under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The alternatives range from the original proposal, protecting more than 1 million acres, to as few as 300,000 acres protected, as well as a “no-action” alternative.
The executive branch has taken similar action to protect other places from new claim-staking, including Yellowstone National Park and Oregon’s Coos Bay. Such action has been necessary because the mining of gold, uranium and other hardrock minerals is still governed by a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.
The outdated law gives mining companies “free and open access” to the majority of public land in the West and the Congressional Budget Office has shown it allows at least $1 billion in valuable metals to be taken from public land without taxpayer compensation. The Obama administration and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have called for modernizing the law. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified the hardrock mining industry as the nation’s top polluter due to the more than $2 billion in federal spending on mine cleanup over the past decade.
Statement from the Department of Interior:
“The current two-year segregation from new mining claims in the Arizona Strip near the Grand Canyon is allowing us to gather the best science available, engage the public, and make an informed decision about whether lands in the watershed should be withdrawn from new mining claims,” Salazar said. “With the input of local communities, tribes, stakeholders, and scientists, the Bureau of Land Management has developed four alternatives on which we encourage people to provide their feedback and views. This process will help make a decision that recognizes the need for wise development of our energy resources, the importance of healthy lands and waters, and the voices of local communities, tribes, states, and stakeholders.”
The Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Draft EIS, which will be available for public review and comment on February 18, 2011, was prepared by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), acting as lead agency in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and other state and local agencies and in consultation with seven American Indian tribes.
Public input on the Draft EIS will be used to inform a final decision made by the Secretary of the Interior on the proposed withdrawal. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, a notice published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Federal Register initiates a 45-day public comment period.
The Draft EIS discusses the potential impacts that each of four alternatives would have on the human environment and natural and cultural resources. The Draft EIS does not identify a preferred alternative.
· Alternative A is the No Action Alternative, under which no withdrawal would occur and hardrock mineral exploration and mining would continue throughout the study area in accordance with existing BLM and Forest Service regulations and land use plans.
· Alternative B is to withdraw about 1 million acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years subject to valid existing rights. The land is in three parcels: two are north of the Grand Canyon National Park on BLM Arizona Strip and Kaibab National Forest lands; and one is south of the Grand Canyon also in the Kaibab National Forest. The authority for the withdrawal comes from Section 204 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. If implemented, this withdrawal would not prevent any other development under laws regulating mineral leasing, geothermal leasing, mineral materials or public lands.
· Alternative C is to withdraw a reduced area of about 650,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with resources that could be adversely affected by mineral exploration and mining. The resources potentially affected are cultural, hydrologic, recreational, visual, and biologic.
· Alternative D is to withdraw a further reduced area of about 300,000 acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. This is the largest contiguous area with the highest concentration of resources that could adversely be affected by mineral exploration and mining.
Public meetings are being scheduled to take place from March 7 to 10, 2011, in Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Fredonia, Arizona, and in Salt Lake City, Utah. Comments must be in writing and either mailed to Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip District, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790, or sent as an email to NAZproposedwithdrawal@azblm.org.
Information can be found at http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html or by calling (435) 688-3200. Public Meetings will be held in all of the following locations from 6:00pm to 8:30pm:
March 7, 2011 National Training Center, 9828 North 31st Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85051. The National Training Center (NTC), a federal building, requires non-government personnel to show drivers license, state identification or passport.
March 8, 2011 High Country Conference Center, Agassiz & Fremont Rooms, 201 West Bulter Avenue, Flagstaff, AZ 86001.
March 9, 2011 Fredonia High School, Media Center, 221 East Hortt Street, Fredonia, AZ 86022.
March 10, 2011 Homewood Suites, Santa Fe and Rio Grande Conference Rooms, 423 West 300 South Salt Lake City, UT 84101.
Filed under: BLM, Colorado, Environment, national parks, public lands Tagged: | 1872 mining law, Bureau of Land management, Environment, General Mining Act of 1872, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon uranium mining, hardrock mining, National Environmental Policy Act, Salazar hardrock mining reform, Summit County News, United States Department of the Interior