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Bureau of Land Management
For Release: Monday, October 16, 2000

Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)

Contacts:
Tom Gorey
(202) 452-5031
Michael Schwartz
(202) 452-5198
Paul McNutt
(775) 861-6604
 

BLM Publishes Final Environmental Impact Statement
on Proposed "3809" Surface Mining Regulations

The Bureau of Land Management today published a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the agency's proposal to upgrade its "3809" surface mining regulations. The BLM plans to issue its final, revised regulations before the end of the year, but no earlier than 30 days after a notice of the EIS's availability appears in the October 20 Federal Register.

The final EIS contains a Preferred Alternative that would update the BLM's 20-year-old existing surface mining regulations, enabling the agency to fulfill its duty under Federal law to prevent "unnecessary or undue degradation" of BLM lands from hardrock mining. (That duty is found in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976.) The Preferred Alternative would enhance the Bureau's ability to protect public health, public land resources, and the environment; it would also ensure that mining operators, rather than the nation's taxpayers, bear the costs of reclaiming mined lands. This approach to reclamation funding, which will add some costs to mining operations, was prompted by the fact that several major mining operations have failed in recent years, leaving cleanup costs to the public.

The BLM has not changed its "3809" regulations found in subpart 3809 of the agency's mineral rules -- since the agency published them in 1980. Over the past two decades, the scope and technology of hardrock mining on Federal lands have changed considerably, as has the Bureau's knowledge about environmental impacts of mining and ways to control these impacts. The BLM initiated its regulatory upgrade effort in 1991, but then held up further 3809 work for several years while Congress considered making major reforms in the Mining Law of 1872. (The Mining Law governs hardrock mining on Federal lands for such minerals as gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, uranium, and molybdenum.) In early 1997 Secretary Babbitt ordered completion of the rulemaking process.

In accordance with congressional direction, the BLM's revised 3809 rules will be "not inconsistent" with the recommendations of a 1999 National Research Council (NRC) report. The congressionally mandated NRC report, titled Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands, made several recommendations for tighter hardrock mining regulation and called for more financial responsibility by mining operators.

The final EIS published today addresses five alternatives: (1) "No Action," which would retain the 1980 surface mining regulations; (2) State Management, under which the BLM would generally defer the regulation of exploration and mining on BLM lands to the States; (3) the Preferred Alternative; (4) Maximum Protection, under which the BLM would exercise broad discretion in determining the acceptability of proposed mining operations and would prescribe specific performance standards for mineral operations; and (5) the NRC Recommendations, which would revise the existing regulations only where specifically recommended by the 1999 NRC report. The five alternatives basically reflect the issues raised during the public "scoping" and public comment process.

Written in "plain English," the forthcoming revised regulations will improve the clarity and organization of the BLM's surface mining rules, making them more user-friendly. The Bureau developed the revised regulations with extensive public input over several years, including publication of a proposed rule for public comment in February 1999. The updated regulations will:

Copies of the final 3809-related Environmental Impact Statement can be obtained from the BLM's State Offices or accessed from the Bureau's national Internet site (www.blm.gov).

The BLM, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, manages more land -- 264 million surface acres -- than any other Federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 Western States, including Alaska. The Bureau, with a workforce of about 8,700 full-time, permanent employees, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM preserves open space by managing the public lands for multiple uses, including outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, and mining, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources found on the public lands.