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Copyright 1999 Federal News Service, Inc.  
Federal News Service



LENGTH: 1160 words



Madame Chair and Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you today about hardrock mining issues.
While this Administration remains in strong support of comprehensive reform of the General Mining Law of 1872, we have also made efforts over the last several years to administer hardrock mining on federal lands responsibly under existing law. We are continuing to process grandfathered patent applications - we have granted 55 patents under the Mining Law, transferring ownership of over 8600 acres of federal land and minerals, worth many billions of dollars, over the last several years. We are working hard on processing the remainder of the grandfathered applications. We have approved hundreds of new or amended plans of hardrock mining operations - we reviewed 247 in FY 98, 248 in FY 97, and 214 in FY 96. In addition, each year we receive 600 to 1200 "notices" of small operations (under five acres of surface disturbance). The mining industry continues to file thousands of new mining claims each year; about an equal number of claims lapse each year. Currently, about one quarter million mining claims are recorded with BLM.
We have also taken steps to improve the regulation and administration of mining activity on federal lands. In 1996 we issued the Part 3715 "use and occupancy" regulations, which completed a rulemaking begun in the Bush Administration to resolve conflicts over occupancy of mining claims. These regulations provide land managers with the tools to recognize legitimate occupancy and remove illegal occupancy or nuisance claims. This effort benefits responsible, legitimate mining operators. As one example of these benefits, BLM's Ridgecrest Field Office in California has taken steps since the regulations were adopted to clear up conflicting land titles on old mining claims.
Some BLM state offices have seized this opportunity to streamline their regulatory processes for smaller entities affected by the use and occupancy rules. BLM's Arizona office, for example, has prepared a state-wide environmental assessment (EA) for small-scale mining operations. This will allow faster NEPA reviews and approvals of use and occupancy for notice-level and casual use mining operations. The Arizona office also conducted an analysis of the permitting process that led to the March 1999 publication of the first edition "Guide to Permitting Mining Operations in Arizona." This document provides a clear description of the range of permits required for mining operators in the state, and it has contributed to better coordination among the various permitting agencies. The Nevada state office has also taken steps to streamline permitting processes by beginning the preparation of a state-wide EA.
As you know, this Administration has consistently advocated reform of the 1872 Mining Law to permanently eliminate parenting, increase claim holding fees, require operators to pay a meaningful royalty for minerals recovered from federal lands, and require adequate environmental reclamation of current and abandoned mines. We remain committed to these goals, and open to the possibility of serious discussions with the Congress on the subject. Recently it has been suggested that the Mining Law should also be amended to eliminate the acreage limitation on millsites, and we would be happy to discuss this issue, but only in the context of reforms that address the other issues as well. We believe the recent vote on the floor of the House on the millsite issue reflects, among other things, strong support in this body for the idea that reform of the Mining Law should be comprehensive, not piecemeal.
Regarding mineral royalties, we continue to believe that the hardrock industry should pay the American people who own these minerals a meaningful royalty, just as they pay royalties to state and private landowners all over the country and just as royalties are paid on coal, oil and natural gas operations on Federal lands. There seems to be general agreement now that some hardrock royalty ought to be paid. But sharp differences remain over how much of a royalty and what kinds of deductions and exemptions should be allowed. We continue to advocate a royalty based on net smelter return, which is standard in the industry.
With respect to the question of lead mining in Southeast Missouri on the Mark Twain National Forest, such mineral interests on acquired lands are administered by BLM through prospecting permits and leasing, rather than through location under the General Mining Law of 1872. Unlike claim location under the Mining Law, issuance of prospecting permits requires a decision in the discretion of the responsible federal agencies (here, the BLM with the consent of the Forest Service), and requires full environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.
In making the decision on those permits, the Secretary of the Interior has a responsibility to protect the water resources of the National Park System's Ozark National Scenic Riverways. While the Secretary could do this by assessing the impact on those resources through a NEPA analysis that considered full-scale mineral development, other approaches are possible. We explored at length with the Doe Run Company the possibility of doing a NEPA analysis only on the exploration phase, without considering the development phase, but could not reach agreement on the terms and conditions we would attach to the prospecting permit to make such truncated NEPA analysis possible. After extensive negotiations, the company decided to withdraw its application.
While there are currently no applications pending for lead prospecting permits in the National Forest, a rider that was included in the Interior Appropriations bill as it was approved by the Senate Committee on Appropriations would, in my judgment, likely not have advanced the debate over future mineral activity in the area. The rider, removed at the introduction of the bill on the Senate floor, would have directed the General Accounting Office to evaluate the economic impacts on the mining industry from halting all lead mining, not only in the National Forest, but also in the entire State of Missouri and surrounding States. Such a study would likely have inflated the potential negative impacts of a restriction on future mining permits on national forest land. The study would have also ignored another side of the economic debate -- an assessment of the economic impact that mining in the National Forest might have on environmental quality and recreation in the National Forest and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Recreation and environmental amenities like abundant clean water contribute significantly to the local economy. Ignoring these effects would have seriously biased the resulting analysis.
Thank you for the opportunity to present these remarks on mining issues. I will be happy to answer any questions.

LOAD-DATE: August 5, 1999

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