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be implemented and the entire 1,006,545 acres of federal locatable mineral estate within the three parcels would be withdrawn for 20 years from operation of the Mining Law, subject to valid existing rights.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.'