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April 14, 1999

BLM Conducts Public Hearings on Proposed Section 3809 Regulations

NMA calls for comment period to be extended 120 days after publication of NAS report

Washington -- The Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a public hearing today on proposed revisions to the Section 3809 regulations - those which govern hardrock mining on federal lands. The National Mining Association, in its testimony, called the proposed rules unnecessary and duplicative of existing state and federal environmental laws and requested the BLM extend the comment period on the 3809 proposed rule 120 days after the publication of the NASí Committee on Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands report.

The BLM announced it's proposed revisions to the 3809 regulations on February 9 and invited public comment in a series of public hearings beginning March 23, 1999. In 1997, hundreds of public citizens, along with Governors of the western states, told the BLM that changes to the regulations were not necessary.

In late October 1998, Congress requested the National Academy of Sciences conduct an independent study on mining of hardrock minerals on federal lands and the adequacy of existing environmental and reclamation requirements. This study is due to be completed in July, but the BLM has announced it will go ahead with its proposal without waiting for the study's completion.

"The results of the study should be an integral part of the rulemaking process, yet the Secretary will not allow the public to comment on the rule within the context of the completed NAS study," said NMA President and CEO Richard L. Lawson. "If the Secretary was willing to wait six years for Congress to rewrite and expand the Mining Law to his satisfaction, he should be willing to wait six months for a third party independent study by the National Academy of Sciences that directly applies to the subject rulemaking that is designed to accomplish his unsuccessful legislative agenda," Lawson added.

Mining on federal lands is now regulated by over a dozen federal environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as comprehensive individual state laws that reflect local climatic, geologic, and geographic differences among states.

"Since the beginning of this latest 3809 rulemaking process, the leadership in the Department of Interior has demonstrated a lack interest in answering a question that has been posed by the mining industry, members of congress and the governors of the western states that will be most seriously effected by the proposed rule. That is, "what are the deficiencies with the existing program that require a wholesale rewrite of subpart 3809?," Lawson explained.

The NMA said it will submit substantive comments on this proposal regardless of the date on which the record is closed. "The mining industry supports reasonable surface management regulations and believes that the federal-state regulatory regime currently in effect is accomplishing its stated purpose, which is to prevent unnecessary and undue degradation of the land," Lawson concluded.

The U.S. mining industry produces coal, metals, building materials, and many other essential minerals that define the daily lives of 267 million Americans. In 1995, the industry generated almost $524 billion in total economic benefit and helped to sustain nearly 5 million U.S. jobs.