Washington, D.C. - The justification for the Solicitor of Interior's millsite opinion which prohibits a mine on public land from using more than one acre of land in support of the mine for every four acres within the actual mining area will be the focus of a hearing by the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. Friday, October 29, at 1324 Longworth HOB. The sole witness for the hearing will be John Leshy, Solicitor for the U.S. Department of the Interior.
A live audio broadcast of the hearing will be available on the Committee website at:
Background on Millsite Opinion
Support acreage for a mine is used for mill facilities, maintenance shops, waste rock disposal, tailings ponds and transportation facilities. The Solicitor's opinion applies arbitrary support acreage limits to any mining operation governed by the general mining laws of the United States. Interior's limit on support acreage is simply not workable for many large mines, particularly surface operations.
The millsite opinion was first applied, without warning on March 29,1999, when Battle Mountain Gold Co. and its partner, Crown Resources, were notified by the Departments of Interior and Agriculture that based on the millsite opinion the Record of Decision for the Crown Jewel Mine in Okanagan County, Washington had been vacated and approval of the Plan of Operations for the property, originally submitted in 1992 and approved in 1997, was withdrawn. The sudden recission of a previously approved action caused stock prices of the two companies involved in the Crown Jewel mine to drop significantly on the day it was announced.
Based on the original 1997 approval of Crown Jewel's Plan of Operations, Washington State had proceeded with its permitting effort. By February 1999, over fifty state and local permits had been obtained for the mine, and a bond exceeding $50 million was posted. Eighty million dollars had been spent on this project, and permitting alone cost some $20 million. According to the Director of the Washington Department of Ecology, the Crown Jewel permitting process represented "the most rigorous environmental analysis the state has ever conducted on a project of this type . . . No other proposal has received this level of environmental scrutiny."
Environmental groups had challenged the Crown Jewel Record of Decision and approval of the Plan of Operations in court, but they lost on every substantive ruling. During the entire permitting process and ensuing legal challenges no one - not Interior, nor any environmental group - ever raised the excess millsite acreage issue.
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