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E-M:/ Feds Publish New Mining Rules for Public Lands

Enviro-Mich message from "TONY DEFALCO" <DEFALCO@nwf.org>

News from the Mineral Policy Center and U.S. PIRG on U.S. mining regulations for public lands. The good news: mining companies must pay to clean up depleted mines and an acknowledgment of public lands managers' right to deny ill-advised mining proposals.  The bad news: a weakening of the rules on toxic tailings dumping on public lands.

Regardless of these new regulations, citizens in MI, WI and MN should be aware that two mining expansions are being proposed in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan right now.  Empire Mine and Tilden Mine, both iron ore mines, are proposing to expand operations. The operations at these two mines affect watersheds in both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior watersheds. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has already given Empire a license to destroy 79 acres of wetlands and 4,700 lineal feet of stream. National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) are currently contesting this permit.  NWF and UPEC are also pursuing injunctive relief to halt the proposed activities in order to allow the agency to have a chance to review the numerous violations of state and federal law that issuance of the permit allowed.

At Tilden, the proposed destruction is 62 acres of wetlands and 3,480 lineal feet of stream. No permit has been issued (yet) and NWF has urged the MDEQ to consider the numerous impacts of this latter expansion and apply state and federal regulations in reviewing the permit application.

For more information or to get involved, contact defalco@nwf.org 

>>> Brennain Lloyd <brennain@onlink.net> 11/21/00 05:15PM >>>

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Alan Septoff, 202.887.1872 x205
Chris Cervini, 703.338.2854 (cell)

Mineral Policy Center-U.S. Public Interest Research Group News Release

***** Feds Publish New Mining Rules for Public Lands *****

*** New Rules Sharpen One Side of Environmental Sword, May Dull the Other

WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 21, 2000) - New rules that govern environmental
practices of the mining industry on public lands were published today by the
Bureau of Land Management. The new rules represent a marked improvement over
the regulatory status quo, but part of the regulations could spell bad news
for the environment.

The new rules (known as "3809" regulations because they are found at Part 43
Subpart 3809 in the Code of Federal Regulations) are intended to protect
taxpayers and the environment from an oftentimes irresponsible mining
industry.  Of great positive significance for taxpayers and the environment
are two provisions:  one which protects taxpayers by requiring that mining
companies, rather than the public, pay to clean up depleted mines; and the
other, which protects the environment by acknowledging, for the first time,
public land managers' authority to deny ill-advised mine proposals in
environmentally and culturally sensitive areas.

The troubling part of the rule is an apparent reversal of an earlier
decision that limited toxic mine-waste dumping on public lands.

That the rules were published at all is a testament to the environmental
tenacity of the Clinton administration.  The mining industry lobby has waged
a four-year campaign to circumvent or block the public rulemaking process
through legislative riders which sought to prevent the enactment of these
rules.  Most recently, a veto threat by the president was required to remove
a provision, attached to the FY2001 Interior Department funding bill, that
would have eviscerated the rulemaking.

"The Clinton administration has raised the environmental bar. When it comes
to mining on public lands, some of the worst mine proposals can now be
rejected. That's the good news," said Alan Septoff, Campaign Director for
Mineral Policy Center.  "The bad news is that the new rule appears to weaken
strict limits on the use of public lands for massive mine-waste dumps. We
plan to fight any weakening of this standard."

The new rules are an update of regulations originally published in 1981.
The regulations are authorized by the Federal Land and Policy Management Act
of 1976, which directs the Secretary of Interior, by regulation or
otherwise, "to take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue
degradation of the public lands."  The original rules, ostensibly written to
protect the environment, contained no environmental performance standards.
They were ineffective because they were written before the widespread
adoption of new dangerous mining technologies, such as cyanide leach

In the 20 years since they were issued, the original regulations have left a
legacy of polluted streams and groundwater, and billions of dollars in
environmental cleanup costs to be borne by taxpayers.  For example, at
currently operating mines, existing regulations have left the public
potentially on the hook for $1 billion in cleanup costs, according to
independent estimates.  Under the old rules, the public also does not have
the right to deny mines in places where they don't belong, such as near a
stream running into a national park, on a sacred Native American site or in
close proximity to a town's water supply.

Stronger environmental and taxpayer protections from mining became more
urgent when it was learned earlier this year that the mining industry is the
nation's largest releaser of toxic waste. According to EPA data, the mining
industry accounted for almost half (3.5 billion pounds) of all the toxic
waste released in the United States (7.3 billion pounds) in 1998, the last
year for which data are available.

The new 3809 rules attempt to address these issues by including:
* A requirement that mining operators post a reclamation bond before mining
begins so that the operator, not the taxpayer, pays for mine cleanup after
the mineral deposit is depleted;
* Language that acknowledges a land manager's discretion to deny
irresponsible mine proposals;
* Environmental performance standards for mining operations.

"We can give thanks this Thanksgiving that these new rules will begin to
protect the public's health and tax dollars from the worst mining
practices," said Lexi Shultz, staff attorney for the U.S. Public Interest
Research Group.

Barring injunction, the new rules will go into effect on Jan. 20, 2001.

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