BLM Expected to Issue Hard Rock Mining Rule in September

September 5, 2001

Sometime in mid-late September, the Bureau of Land Management is expected to issue a key decision on the controversial "hard rock mining rule" -- spurred by the looming threat that Congress will bar them from doing it as of Oct. 1, 2001.

The federal Mining Law of 1872 allowed mining companies who found valuable minerals on federal land to gain title to those lands (and the minerals) for as little as $2.50 per acre -- with scant environmental protection. Some of the mines became Superfund sites when companies abandoned them. The Clinton administration published rules that became effective Jan. 20, 2001, beefing up environmental protection and adding assurances taxpayers wouldn't get stuck with cleanup bills. But on March 23, 2001, the Bush administration's BLM proposed suspending the Clinton rules, which are currently in force.

An amendment to the fiscal 2002 Interior Appropriations bill (HR 2217), which the House passed June 28, 2001, prohibited BLM from reversing the Clinton rules. The amendment, offered by Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) passed 216-194. The Senate-passed version has no such prohibition. But if it survives House-Senate conference, it will foreclose Bush administration action once the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, 2001.