Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mining ban on federal lands advanced in northern Arizona

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has called for a 20 year ban on mineral exploration and mining on nearly 1 million acres of federal lands in northern Arizona, as the recommended alternative in the Environmental Impact Statement released yesterday. After Sec. of Interior Ken Salazar publicly chose that alternative when the Draft EIS was released this summer, it was widely expected that BLM would not challenge their boss. The EIS is open for public review [update: the original post said it was open for comment. In fact, no comments will be accepted but 'messages' may be sent to BLM. Comments would have to be recorded and considered in the evaluation] for 30 days, but with Salazar having already announced his decision, this appears to be moot.

BLM's preferred option is summarized:
Alternative B, the Proposed Action: the proposed withdrawal would be implemented and the entire 1,006,545 acres of federal locatable mineral estate within the three parcels would be withdrawn for 20 years from operation of the Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights. New exploration and mine development proposals could continue to be authorized by the BLM or the Forest Service only on mining claims where valid existing rights are determined to exist, in accordance with applicable laws. The mitigation of potential effects from exploration or development would continue under the applicable surface managing agency regulations. This is also the Preferred Alternative selected by the Secretary after review of public comment on the Draft EIS.
Although this alternative would allow activity on 'valid existing claims' Interior Dept. officials earlier this year indicated they could reinterpret the laws to require proof of the presence of economically recoverable minerals before any exploration would be allowed on those claims. However, since the purpose of exploration is to prove up those resources, such an approach would de facto halt exploration and possible subsequent mining.

If Interior pursues this course, mining companies say they will fight it aggressively. They argue it would effectively halt all exploration on federal lands nationwide.

One BLM officlal told me during the EIS preparation process that they expected to be sued over their decision, by whichever side 'lost.'


  1. Gregory Yount10:10 PM

    I think that BLM official is right.

  2. Anonymous6:14 PM

    It would be just like the uranium industry to spend millions of dollars on attorneys fees on litigation against the government that it has virtually no chance of winning.

    There are three factual errors with this post that need to be corrected:

    (1) BLM regulations and procedures already require proof of an economically recoverable mineral resource to establish Valid Existing Rights for a mining claim. This has been the case for many years; it's the status quo. Implementing the status quo not would be reinterpreting the law as the author of this post incorrectly states. And yes, this means that if Valid Existing Rights do not exist for a mining claim, they cannot be explored under the mineral withdrawal. This is not news to anyone who understands public land mining law.

    (2) This mineral withdrawal will affect just over 1 million acres of public land in northern Arizona. It will not affect all federal lands nationwide and therefore will not, as industry claims, "effectively halt all exploration on federal lands nationwide." This is an absurd and false claim that the author should have fact-checked before publishing.

    (3) There is not public comment period on the final environmental impact statement. Again, the author would be well-advised to actually read or understand BLM regulations prior to publishing in a public forum incorrect assertions about their implementation.

  3. Anonymous, thanks for clarifying that the Final EIS allows public review but that comments will not be accepted. The October 26, 2011 announcement from BLM states:

    "The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today released the Northern Arizona Proposed Withdrawal Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for public review." Available at

    The Federal Register ( identifies who to contact to "leave a message or question." I guess your point is that reviewing the document and leaving a message with the BLM official who worked on the EIS process, does not constitute a comment because the legal comment period ended. Fair enough.

    From the Federal Register: "Chris Horyza, Project Manager, Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Office, One North Central Avenue, Suite 800, Phoenix, Arizona 85004–4427, (602) 417–9446, e-mail Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800) 877–8339 to contact the above
    individual during normal business hours. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to leave a message or question with the above individual. You will receive a reply during normal business hours."