Page images
PDF
EPUB

environmental laws, and the strong guidelines to the Federal Agen-
cies which will be overseeing it. But above all, the agencies, who
are after all the stewards and the representatives of the public,
must in their behalf have the strong power to say where and where
not mining operations shall occur on the public lands. The time
has come indeed, we think it is long since past, to treat those who
would gouge minerals from our land just the same as those who
would cut the trees, graze the grass, or hike the trails.

Thank you.
(Prepared statement of Mr. Evans follows:)

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

STATEMENT Ormoc CVANS

VICE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL ISSUES
BEFORE THE HOUSE INTERIOR SUBCOMMITTEE ON MONING
REGARDING PROPOSALS TO REFORM 1872 MINING LAW: ER 918

[ocr errors]

Thank you very much for this opportunity to testify on this extremely
important subject today. The more than 600.000 members of the National
Audubon Society are organized into over 500 local chapters in every part of
the country, in nearly every congressional district. Many of our members
have had first hand experience about the impacts of the 1872 Mining Law
on public lands, and I myself personally have had an opportunity to witness
both good and bad mining practices. When I was Chairman of the Natural
Resource Council of America (an umbrella organization representing all of
the major groups in the national environmental community) in the late
1970s, we commissioned a study to document poor mining practices, as
permitted under the 1872 Mining Law. It was that experience which
convinced us that if there ever is a law that needs to be changed and
brought up to date in context with new Umes and new thinkings. it is this
statute. Mr. Chairman.
Many others have documented the abuses of the environment of the public
lands that are unfortunately permitted, and even encouraged under this
ancient law: from the fraudulent patenting of home sites in choice locations
of the public lands to the hundreds of streams across the west still
poisoned from mine runoff, from the dozens of once-pristine valleys filled
with tailings to the unreclaimed open pits from past mining -- the abuses
are many, and the scars are permanent.
But this situation does not have to continue. We believe that HR 918. The
Mineral Exploration and Development Act of 1991" is a good step in the
right direction of comprehensive reform. For example, we strongly support
the provisions which give to the Forest Service full authority over hardrock
mining activities on National Forests, so that the Bureau of Land
Management, with its well know slant in favor of mining nearly everywhere.
no longer dictates management decisions; and we equally favor the
"citizen's suit" section (202)(e) which gives the public and individual
ciuzens the right to go to court to enforce the law is the federal agencies do
not uphold it. We likewise are strongly in favor of its other measures which
will stop the abuse of patenting at give-away prices, and the creation of a
Hardrock Reclamation Fund to clean up environmental damage from old
mines.
At the same ame, we are concerned that some of the provisions of HR 918
will not adequately protect the public lands. An example is Sec. 201(b)(4)

1

which does not let agencies deny a Plan of Operations if the land use plan has been updated, and does not specifically in its terms prevent mining. even if the Plan would cause great damage. Our direct experience with all agency land use plans is that they are extremely vague, and one can search through almost any one of them in vain to find the detail necessary to accompany a site-specific investigation which can be the only basis upon which an agency can make a valid decision. We should not codify these Intentionally vague plans into a restrictive statutory framework like this. Audubon is also very concerned about some of the reclamation portions of HR 918. For example, Sec. 201(b) does not require that a Reclamation Plan be an integral part of any Plan of Operations; since BLM generally does not do this, it must be required by law. Certainly those scars of open pits left by mining operations should be filled back in and otherwise reclaimed, but there is nothing in HR 918 which would ensure the achievement of this laudable goal.

Mr. Chairman, perhaps the greatest damage to the public lands that has been accomplished by the 1872 law is the absolute primacy that it gives to mining, over all other public uses of the public lands. According to the mining industry, and the agencies which interpret the law, there is almost no way that an agency official responsible for good stewardship on the lands under his jurisdiction can ever deny a miner the right to mine a claim, once the claim is located and being brought to patent. Thus, the history of the west in recent years is a history of bitter struggles over particularly beautiful places that also may contain some ore, and where a miner has literally, made these places his private property, with full rights to exploit them, no matter what the environmental consequences.

One of the worst examples of this sort of abuse in my direct experience is the case of the proposed open pit copper mine near Image Lake in the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area in the Mt. Baker National Forest in Washington state. Image Lake is a little gem of a water body set into the top of a long green-meadow ridge at 6,000 feet elevation, across the valley from the stunning white volcano of Glacier Peak, in the absolute center of this Wilderness Area, 15 miles from the nearest road. Some time ago, the Kennecott Copper Co. located 3,000 acres worth of patented claims on a low grade body of copper ore in the area. In the mid 1960s Kennecott advanced proposals to ram a road 15 miles in through the heart of this wild place, construct an open pit copper mine large enough to be seen from the moon, with all the towns and facilities at its base. It does not do justice to the immense damage that would have been done to say that the area would have been completely destroyed and forever. The Forest Service did not want this to happen, nor did environmentalists, nor did the governor, nor did the politicians from the state of Washington. But under the 1872 mining law, no one had any legal rights whatsoever to make any kind of balanced determination about whether the mine should be permitted or not. Only massive public pressure, accompanied even by

demonstrations and media attention, forced the company to back down
because it did not want the adverse public exposure. But the patents are
still out of the public domain, and thus can still be mined at any time --
once the price of copper goes up. It does not matter what the public
thinks, or how many generations of people have loved and cherished the
Image Lake country.
Mr. Chairman, it is this type of situation that absolutely must be changed if
any legislation affecting the mining law of 1872 is to be considered truly a
reform statute; everything else is, literally, secondary in importance as far
as we are concerned. All the reclamation in the world, all the bonding
provisions, even royalty provisions and other environmental standards pale
in comparison to the need for public land managers to have the same kind
of control over mining operations on the public lands as they have control
over logging operations, recreation developments, and hiking trails.
Someone, somewhere, Mr. Chairman, must absolutely have the right to say
"no" -- "just because you, Mr. Miner, have located a body of ore, does not
give you the absolute right to make it your private property, and develop it
whenever you chose. The obtaining of minerals, high grade or low grade, or
any grade, is only one more value to be considered when we make
management decisions. Perhaps this particular place is more valuable for
timber harvest, or for wildlife, or for producing clean water, or, even for
recreation. But you shall no longer have primacy, at the expense of all the
other public values." Specifically, Mr. Chairman, we urge an explicit
requirement in HR 918 that the administering agency balance all the values
in the area of the proposed Plan of Operations, and an explicit statement
that the Plan shall be denied if proceeding with the mining operation would
adversely affect these other values.
Mr. Chairman, the National Audubon Society strongly favors reclamation
standards, adequate royalties to the public treasury for the giving away of its
valuable minerals, full compliance with all environmental laws, and the
strong kind of guidelines to the federal agencies which will be overseeing it.
But above all, the agencies, who are after all the stewards and the
representatives of the public, must in their behalf, have the strong power to
say where and where not mining operations shall occur on the public lands.
The time has come -- indeed it is long since past -- to treat those who
would gouge minerals from our land just the same as those who would cut
the trees, graze the grass, or hike the trails. Thank you.

[ocr errors][merged small]

Mr. PRITCHARD. Mr. Chairman, I am Paul Pritchard, and I am honored to represent the 280,000 members of the National Parks and Conservation Association. I am also a native of West Virginia, and I have family who are involved in mining, and I appreciate very much your leadership on this issue.

Mr. Chairman, on behalf of our Association I think it is important to look at the testimony which I would briefly summarize for the sake of tie. But I think the National Parks present the classic example of the canary in the cage, the analogy which not only figuratively but literally applies to the issue of mining and its impact on national parks and on the public lands in general. Today, there are over 25 units of the National Park System in which there are over 2,000 active claims, patent and unpatented, which exist within those units of the National Park System. Those resources and the impact in those areas in terms of wildlife, clean air, clean waterall of those resources are affected and are dominantly affected by the impact of these claims in these units of the National Park System

More importantly, Mr. Chairman, over two-thirds of the 358 units of the National Park System have active claims, patented and unpatented, which will have an impact in or around the units of the National Park System. Over two-thirds of the National Park System can be affected by claims under the existing Act, and we think that is a significant issue.

Let me be even more specific and tell you what some of those claims have done. In Death Valley on a claim we have a commercial resort constructed on a patented claim. In Lake Mead we have a housing subdivision and a gambling casino and a hotel. In the Kantishna area of the Denali National Park we have a new 24. cabin lodge. All of these built on what were, at least to the public's image, activities that would be carried out in the interest of mining

Mr. Chairman, there are also impacts that we think are significantly identified by the Park Service, and there is a list attached at the end of my testimony, in 124 units of the National Park System in all 10 regions of the system itself, with over 10,195 abandoned hazards. The reclamation cost just for the National Park System to take care of these hazards is over $50 million, of which no one is paying the bill today. For this reason, we are very concerned and supportive of title III of H.R. 918, and again commend you for your leadership in establishing this bill, and establishing in particular the reclamation fund that is identified there.

I should also mention that there have been fatalities in national parks-Lake Mead, Death Valley—which have been clearly identified as a result of hazards from mining operations, abandoned mining operations and mining operations themselves.

Mr. Chairman, there are some suggestions on page 4 of my testimony which I will not go into, but suggest changes or additions to H.R. 918. We commend you again for this legislation. In particular, we do think, though, there is a need for some reasonable royalty fee which would help us reclaim these important areas that have been sacrificed, and we believe that effort should begin immediately.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »