1

Introduction

In late 1998 Congress asked the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a study of the regulatory framework that applies to hardrock mining on federal lands. The study is particularly timely in that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed to revise its regulations for mineral exploration and development conducted under the authority of the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. §22 et seq.). The BLM regulations apply to hardrock minerals—such as those bearing gold, silver, copper, and uranium— on 260 million acres of federal lands managed by BLM throughout the western United States. The Forest Service manages the national forests on which mineral exploration and mining occur and implements its own regulations for managing these activities.

As specified by Congress,1 “the study shall identify and consider:

  1. the operating, reclamation and permitting requirements for locatable minerals mining and exploration operations on federal lands by federal and state air, water, solid waste, reclamation and other environmental statutes, including surface management regulations promulgated by federal land management agencies and state primacy programs under applicable federal statutes and state laws and the time requirements applicable to project environmental review and permitting;

  2. the adequacy of federal and state environmental, reclamation and permitting statutes and regulations applicable in any state or states where mining or exploration of locatable minerals on federal lands is occurring, to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation; and

  3. recommendations and conclusions regarding how federal and state environmental, reclamation and permitting requirements and programs can be coordinated to ensure environmental protection,

    1  

    Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1999 P.L. 105–277, Division A, Title I, Sec. 120, enacted October 21, 1998



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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS 1 Introduction In late 1998 Congress asked the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a study of the regulatory framework that applies to hardrock mining on federal lands. The study is particularly timely in that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed to revise its regulations for mineral exploration and development conducted under the authority of the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. §22 et seq.). The BLM regulations apply to hardrock minerals—such as those bearing gold, silver, copper, and uranium— on 260 million acres of federal lands managed by BLM throughout the western United States. The Forest Service manages the national forests on which mineral exploration and mining occur and implements its own regulations for managing these activities. As specified by Congress,1 “the study shall identify and consider: the operating, reclamation and permitting requirements for locatable minerals mining and exploration operations on federal lands by federal and state air, water, solid waste, reclamation and other environmental statutes, including surface management regulations promulgated by federal land management agencies and state primacy programs under applicable federal statutes and state laws and the time requirements applicable to project environmental review and permitting; the adequacy of federal and state environmental, reclamation and permitting statutes and regulations applicable in any state or states where mining or exploration of locatable minerals on federal lands is occurring, to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation; and recommendations and conclusions regarding how federal and state environmental, reclamation and permitting requirements and programs can be coordinated to ensure environmental protection, 1   Department of the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 1999 P.L. 105–277, Division A, Title I, Sec. 120, enacted October 21, 1998

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS increase efficiency, avoid duplication and delay, and identify the most cost-effective manner for implementation.” To conduct the study the NRC established the Committee on Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands in January 1999. The Committee conducted an evidence-based analysis, taking account of scientific and technical knowledge. It was not asked to address the issue of comprehensive reform of the General Mining Law of 1872 or general problems related to abandoned mine lands. Because the Committee's charge indicated that the baseline for the study was the existing regulatory framework rather than proposed revisions to that framework, the Committee did not focus on the BLM proposal to revise its regulations governing hardrock mining; the Committee did, however, receive briefings on that proposed rule making. The Committee concentrated on the intersection of three elements that form the context of hardrock mining on federal lands: minerals development and the factors that drive it; (Introduction and Appendix A) the natural environment and how it can be affected by hardrock mining (Introduction and Appendix B); and federal and state laws and regulations (Chapter 2 and Appendix C). This federal lands context is governed by the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. §22 et seq.). The law defines the system of open access to hardrock minerals on federal lands of the western United States that are not withdrawn from mineral entry. The law allows any person to stake a claim on these lands and thereby to obtain the exclusive right to extract the minerals thereon without payment of royalty to the United States and without acquiring title to the land itself. The regulation of hardrock mining and exploration operations on these “unpatented” mining claims, where title to the land remains with the United States, is the focus of this study. A mining claimant may also obtain title to (patent) the lands by proving the location of a valuable mineral deposit on the mining claim, among other requirements, and paying the United States the statutory price ($5.00 per acre for lode claims and $2.50 per acre for placer claims). The result of over a century of mineral patenting and other conveyances of federal lands is, in many parts of the West, a patchwork of intermingled privately owned lands; state-owned lands; and federally owned lands, including unpatented mining claims. A large mine may occupy a mixture of these land ownerships, each subject to different regulatory and land management requirements. For the purposes of this study, we use the term “hardrock minerals” as a synonym for “locatable minerals,” which is a legal term not widely used in the

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS technical literature. Sidebar 1–1 provides a definition of locatable minerals and distinguishes locatable minerals from leasable and saleable minerals, which are also legal terms that are not widely used in the technical literature. Examples of the three groups of minerals are provided in Sidebar 1–1. Some minerals are either locatable or saleable, depending on whether they are common or uncommon varieties as defined by the Common Varieties Act of 1955 (30 U.S.C. §601 et seq.) (Sidebar 1–2). For the purposes of this report, the phrase “federal land management agencies” refers to BLM and the Forest Service. POLICY CONTEXT The BLM first implemented its hardrock mining surface management regulations in 1981 (codified at 43 CFR 3809; the “3809 regulations ”). The preamble to the 1981 regulations stipulates that the regulations would be reviewed for possible revisions in three years. The review was postponed and was not addressed until 1989, when the BLM established a task force to address significant hardrock mining issues. In 1991 the BLM formed another review task force, but in 1993 it decided to put the review on hold because of anticipated congressional amendments to the Mining Law of 1872. The House of Representatives and the Senate passed differing bills to reform the Mining Law of 1872 during the 103rd Congress in 1993 –94. The congressional conference committee convened to reconcile the House and Senate bills, but failed to reach agreement before Congress adjourned in the fall of 1994.2 In January 1997 the Secretary of the Interior directed the BLM to restart the process for revising its hardrock mining regulations. Because of the time that had passed since the 1991 effort, the BLM started a new public participation process in early 1997. An agency task force with expertise in the program was created to coordinate public involvement, develop regulation options, and oversee changes in the regulations. In early 1997 BLM revised the 3809 regulations for reclamation bonding. The new bonding regulation was challenged in court. In May 1998 the District Court ruled against BLM and the 1997 bonding regulation is no longer in effect.3 2   The Mining Law of 1872 has been the topic of intermittent debates in Congress since its passage. One history of the legal aspects of mineral development says, “The history of public mining law in this country has yet to record a plateau of comparative quietude” (Swenson,1968; see also Leshy, 1987). 3   Northwest Mining Association v. Babbitt, No. 97–1013, D.D.C., May 13, 1998.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS SIDEBAR 1–1 Locatable, Leasable, and Saleable Minerals Locatable Minerals A legal term that, for federal lands in the United States, defines a mineral or mineral commodity that is acquired through the General Mining Law of 1872, as amended (30 USC 22–54, 161, 162, 661–615). These are the base and precious metal ores, ferrous metal ores, and certain classes of industrial minerals. Acquisition is by staking a mining claim (location) over the deposit and then acquiring the necessary permits to explore or mine. Examples of locatable minerals include, but are not limited to, gold, silver, platinum, copper, lead, zinc, magnesium, nickel, tungsten, bentonite, barite, feldspar, fluorspar, uranium, and uncommon varieties of sand, gravel, and dimension stone. Leasable Minerals A legal term that, for federal lands or a federally retained mineral interest in lands in the United States, defines a mineral or mineral commodity acquired through the Mineral Land Leasing Act of 1920, as amended, the Geothermal Steam Act of 1970, as amended, or the Acquired Lands Act of 1947, as amended. These Acts are found in Title 30 of the United States Code—Mineral Lands and Mining. Acquistion is by application for a government lease and permits to mine or explore after lease issuance. Examples of leasable minerals include oil, gas, coal, oil shale, sodium, potash, phosphate, and all minerals within acquired lands. Saleable Minerals A legal term that, for federal lands, defines mineral commodities sold by sales contract from the federal government. The applicable statute is the Mineral Materials Sale Act of 1947, as amended (30 USC 602–604, 611– 615). Saleable minerals are generally common varieties of construction materials and aggregates, such as sand, gravel, cinders, roadbed, and ballast material. Source: Dictionary of Mining, Mineral, and Related Terms, 2nd edition, American Geological Institute, 1997.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS SIDEBAR 1–2 Common and Uncommon Variety Minerals Common Variety Minerals Stone, gravel, pumice, pumicite, and cinders that, though possibly having value for trade, manufacture, the sciences, or the mechanical or ornamental arts, do not have a distinct, special value for such use beyond normal uses. On federal lands such minerals are considered saleable and are disposed of by sales or by special permits to local governments. Uncommon Variety Minerals On the federal lands stone, gravel, pumice, pumicite, and cinder deposits that have distinct and special properties making them commercially valuable for use in a manufacturing, industrial, or processing operation. Such minerals are locatable under the Mining Law of 1872, as amended. In determining a deposit's commercial value, the following factors may be considered: quality and quantity of the deposit, geographic location, accessibility to transportation, and proximity to market or point of use. Source: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Surface ManagementRegulations for Locatable Minerals Operations, U.S. Department ofthe Interior, BLM, February, 1999, p. G-5, G-26. In late October 1998 Congress asked the NRC to conduct an independent study on mining of hardrock minerals on federal lands, including consideration of the adequacy of existing environmental and reclamation requirements to prevent “unnecessary or undue degradation” and the time requirements applicable to project environmental review and permitting. Congress instructed that the study was to be completed by July 31, 1999. The legislation also prohibited the Secretary of the Interior from promulgating final regulations to change the BLM regulations found at 43 CFR 3809 prior to September 30, 1999. In February 1999 the BLM published its proposed revisions to the 3809 regulations and a draft environmental impact statement (EIS). The BLM held public meetings on the proposed regulations and draft EIS in 13 cities in March and April 1999. The deadline for providing comments to BLM on these documents was May 10, 1999. In May 1999 Congress passed legislation requiring the Secretary of the Interior to provide a period of not less than 120 days for accepting public comment on the BLM's proposed rule after the Committee on Hardrock

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS Mining on Federal Lands submits its report to the appropriate federal agencies, the Congress, and the governors of the affected states. Although the Committee was aware of the proposed changes to BLM's regulations, it has focused its review on the existing regulatory framework. The Committee was informed that the Forest Service also was considering revisions to its regulations (36 CFR 228) for hardrock mining on western national forest lands; however, the Committee considered only the existing Forest Service regulatory framework. APPROACH TO THE STUDY The Committee on Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands consists of 13 members with a broad range of expertise and experience (Appendix H). The Committee operates under the Committee on Earth Resources, which is under the aegis of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources within the NRC's Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources. The study was conducted on a fast-track schedule, as requested by Congress. The Committee conducted 5 meetings, three field trips, and three public participation forums in 5 months (Appendixes F and G). The committee meetings were held in Washington, D.C. (two meetings), Denver, Reno, and Spokane. The committee meetings featured 60 speakers from federal and state agencies, environmental organizations, industry, and other institutions. The public participation forums included presentations from 37 individuals (Appendixes F and G).4 The Committee conducted field trips to large mines, small mines, and exploration sites on lands administered or formerly administered by BLM and the Forest Service: Cripple Creek and Victor Mine (Colorado), Sleeper Mine (Nevada), Gold Quarry Mine (Nevada), Flatrock Claims (Washington), and exploration sites on Forest Service lands in the Sullivan Ranger District (Washington). Subsets of the Committee visited other mines and exploration sites in Alaska, California, and Nevada. To supplement its analysis of the existing panoply of federal and state statutes and regulations, the Committee sought assistance from 12 western states. The Committee sent letters to state regulatory agencies requesting information about violations of state environmental regulations applicable to hardrock mining activities on federal lands during the last 5 years. Information supplied by the state agencies ranged from minimal to comprehensive. A 4   Copies of approximately 250 documents reviewed by the Committee can be requested from the Public Access Records Office of the NRC 's library (through the National Academies World Wide Web site at www4.national-academies.org/cp.nsf).

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS limited number of examples of recent environmental impacts at hardrock mine sites are presented in Appendix B. One of the Committee's recommendations addresses the importance of creating a comprehensive management information system that tracks compliance and communicates this information to all stakeholders. The study of hardrock mining on federal lands builds upon previous NRC reports on mining issues. It has been almost 20 years since the NRC's Committee on Surface Mining and Reclamation (COSMAR) published its report on Surface Mining of Non-Coal Minerals (NRC, 1979) pursuant to a congressional directive in the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. In the two decades since the issuance of that report there have been significant advances in mining technology. Moreover, in the intervening years, many states have enacted and implemented extensive regulatory programs to address the environmental impact of hardrock mining. More recently, the NRC issued a report entitled Competitiveness of the U.S. Minerals and Metals Industry (NRC, 1990). That report addresses the U.S. minerals and metals industry in a changing global context and discusses trends in U.S. production and consumption of metals. It finds that the United States is among the world's largest consumers of nearly every metal, much of which is imported. Moreover, it observes that, although the U.S. share of the world market for most major metals has slipped, the United States is among the world's largest producers of many important metals and still has substantial reserves. According to recent mine production data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey (1999), the United States is the world's largest producer of molybdenum and second largest producer of gold, silver, and copper. FEDERAL LANDS AND HARDROCK MINING Federal lands have been an important source of minerals since the early part of the nineteenth century. Although most of what were once federal lands between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains are now under non-federal ownership, the remaining federal lands in the western states, including Alaska, continue to provide a large share of the metals and hardrock minerals produced in this country. The federal lands generally available for exploration for hardrock minerals are part of the original federal public domain and are now under the management of the BLM, an agency of the Department of the Interior, and the Forest Service, an agency of the Department of Agriculture. Lands administered by the BLM and Forest Service comprise 38% of the combined land area of the 12 western states (Table 1–1). The combined

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS Table 1–1 Public Lands Administered by BLM and the Forest Service   BLM Lands (1) Forest Service Lands (2) (3) Sum of BLM and Forest Service Lands Federal Total Total State Acreage (4) State Acres % of state acreage Acres % of state acreage Acres % of state acreage Acres % of state acreage   Alaska 86,908,060 23.8 21,969,321 6.0 108,877,381 29.8 171,787,844 47.0 365,481,600 Arizona 14,220,457 19.6 11,251,701 15.5 25,472,158 35.0 31,336,526 43.1 72,699,000 California 14,556,074 14.5 20,647,142 20.6 35,203,216 35.1 44,757,474 44.7 100,206,720 Colorado 8,260,306 12.4 14,508,108 21.8 22,768,414 34.2 24,128,982 36.3 66,485,760 Idaho 11,775,052 22.2 20,460,774 38.7 32,235,826 60.9 32,991,905 62.3 52,933,120 Montana 6,259,211 6.7 16,877,005 18.1 23,136,216 24.8 25,485,347 27.3 93,271,040 Nevada 47,841,264 68.1 5,823,676 8.3 53,664,940 76.4 56,081,559 79.8 70,264,320 New Mexico 12,541,069 16.1 9,326,935 12.0 21,868,004 28.1 26,217,230 33.7 77,766,400 Oregon 16,145,615 26.2 15,656,351 25.4 31,801,966 51.6 31,809,283 51.6 61,598,720 Utah 22,832,630 43.3 8,112,730 15.4 30,945,360 58.7 33,898,255 64.3 52,696,960 Washington 370,110 0.9 9,177,071 21.5 9,547,181 22.4 11,938,958 28.0 42,693,760 Wyoming 18,373,492 29.5 9,247,742 14.8 27,621,234 44.3 30,878,166 49.5 62,343,040 Sub Total 260,364,677 22.3 165,082,211 14.1 425,446,888 36.4 563,080,110 48.2 1,167,797,880 U.S. Total 261,614,888 11.5 191,785,560 8.4 453,400,448 20.0     2,271,343,360 12 Western States as a % of U.S. total   99.5   86.1   93.8   51.4   NOTES: (1) BLM, 1999a, p. 78. These data exclude Land Utilization Project lands, to which the 3809 regulations do not apply. Land Utilization Project lands comprise 2.3 million in 9 western states, including 1.8 million acres in Montana. BLM's 3809 regulations also apply to Stockraising Homestead Act Acreage, which include 67.1 million acres in the 12 western states, including 18.1 million acres in Wyoming and 15.6 million acres in New Mexico (2) Forest Service, 1998, pp. 14–35. (3) GAO, 1996, p. 11. (4) BLM, 1999a, p. 78.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS acreage of BLM and Forest Service lands range from about 76% of Nevada to about 23% of Washington (BLM, 1999b). In addition to the BLM and Forest Service lands, sometimes called the “multiple use” lands because they serve many uses, the federal government also has large land holdings in the West devoted to specific uses. These include the national parks and national wildlife refuges, which are managed by the National Park Service and Fish and Wildlife Service in the Department of the Interior, military lands managed by Department of Defense agencies, and lands managed by the Department of Energy. The 12 western states contain 99% of the lands administered by BLM and 85% of the lands administered by the Forest Service. BLM lands in these 12 states total about 260 million acres and Forest Service lands about 163 million acres (Table 1–1). These vast areas compare with an estimated 15,000 acres of currently active notice-level mining operations (less than 5 acres each) and 134,000 acres in currently active plan-level mining operations on BLM lands (BLM, 1999a, p. 86–87). Based on these data, approximately 0.06% of BLM lands are affected by currently active plan-level and notice-level mining activities (see Sidebar 1–3 for a discussion of categories of mining activities on BLM lands). However, impacts to water quality, vegetation, and aquatic biota from both active and historic mining often extend beyond the immediate area of the mine site. In addition, there are over 200,000 inactive and abandoned mines, many of which are on federal lands (EPA, 1997b). Not all BLM and Forest Service lands are available for mineral prospecting and mining. Various categories of these lands have been withdrawn from mineral entry to meet a variety of public purposes. Chief among these are congressionally designated wilderness areas. Other lands have been withdrawn administratively to protect relatively large areas being considered for possible designation as wilderness, areas used for military facilities, and smaller areas for recreation and for other facilities. The Committee requested information about the acreage of BLM and Forest Service lands that are withdrawn from mineral entry, but these data were not readily available. It is difficult to obtain accurate information about the level of mining activities on federal lands, because neither BLM nor the Forest Service systematically collect data on the value of hardrock minerals produced on their lands. The BLM reports the number of plans and notices of mining operations filed with the agency on an annual basis. Time series data are provided in Figures 1–1 and 1–2. These data indicate that the number of plans of operations filed with the BLM has decreased roughly by 50% since 1992 (Figure 1–1). The number of notices has fallen by a greater percentage, apparently due in large part to the imposition of a $100 holding fee per mining claim per year instead of the previous requirement that claim holders conduct $100 of assessment work per year (Figure 1–2). Declining levels of exploration and lower metals prices may also account in part for recent declines in filings of plans of operations.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS SIDEBAR 1–3 Categories of Mining Activities on BLM Lands Casual Use Mining activities that only negligibly disturb federal lands and resources. Casual use does not include the use of mechanized earth moving equipment or explosives or the use of motorized equipment in areas closed to off-road vehicles. Under casual use, operators do not have to notify BLM, and operations do not need to be approved. But operations are subject to monitoring by BLM to ensure that federal lands do not undergo unnecessary or undue degradation. Casual use operations must be reclaimed. Notice-level Operation A mining or exploration operation involving more than casual use but requiring that the operator submit only a notice rather than a plan of operations. A notice is the notification a mining operator must submit to BLM of the intention to begin an operation that will disturb 5 acres or less in a year in a mining claim or project area. The intent of a notice is to permit operations with limited geographic disturbance to begin after a quick review for potential resource conflicts and to eliminate the need for federal action. A notice requires no special forms, but an operator must submit specific information. BLM must complete its review of the notice within 15 calender days of its receipt unless more information is required to determine whether the operation would cause unnecessary or undue degradation. Plan of Operations A plan for mining exploration and development that an operation must submit to BLM for approval when more than 5 acres a year will be disturbed or when an operator plans to work in an area of critical environmental concern or a wilderness area. A plan of operations must document in detail all actions that the operator plans to take from exploration through reclamation. Source: Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Surface ManagementRegulations for Locatable Minerals Operations, U.S. Department ofthe Interior, BLM, February, 1999, p. G-4, G-16, G-18.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS FIGURE 1–1 Plans of operations filed with BLM for mining or exploration activities on BLM lands. Source: BLM, 1992, 1994, 1999b.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS mechanized earth-moving equipment typically involves relocating a short (on the order of 2,000 feet) stretch of a stream, removal of the vegetative mat or soil, mining of gravels, removal of gold with sluices that separate dense from light minerals, and reclamation by replacing gravel and the vegetative mat or soil. Suction dredging pumps sediment from the stream bottom and processes it in a floating sluice, and can be as small as a “recreational” one-person operation. Mineral Processing (Beneficiation) Mineral processing, or beneficiation, consists of upgrading or concentrating the ore before the concentrate is transported to a smelter or refinery. It begins with crushing and grinding the ore into fine particles, thereby disaggregating ore grains and waste mineral grains. These particles are then subjected to physical and chemical processes using various chemicals and reagents to separate and concentrate the valuable minerals from the unwanted waste and other substances in the ore. Especially with copper ores, metals can be extracted on site directly through treatment of the ores by a process called solvent extraction/electrowinning. Otherwise, concentrates are reduced to metals by smelting. Heap leaching is an increasingly common practice for the extraction of concentrated metals from ore, using cyanide solutions for gold ore and ferric sulfate/sulfuric acid solutions for low-grade copper ore. In heap leaching, ore can be leached without crushing, or it can be crushed only fine enough to allow the lixiviant (leaching solution) access to most of the mineral grains. The solution percolates through the piled ore, and the resulting metal-containing solutions are pumped to a processing facility for extraction. The fluids are then treated and recycled. The waste or unwanted minerals (tailings) separated from the valuable minerals are routinely disposed of in a tailings pond near the mine site. The associated water is typically recycled, treated, and used in subsequent mining or processing. Tailings generally contain small amounts of the valuable mineral(s) not completely recovered during beneficiation, some unwanted or undesirable deleterious minerals, waste rock minerals, and some fluids with chemicals and metals from the separation process. Tailings from underground mines may be used to backfill underground voids. Tailings dams and ponds and leach pads are designed to high standards, but some do fail, and the release or discharge of tailings, leached rock, or pregnant leach solutions can have negative environmental impacts.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS Reclamation Reclamation minimizes the potential for future environmental damage and prepares the mining and processing site for beneficial use after mining. Common reclamation practices include reducing the slopes on the edges of waste rock dumps and heaps to minimize erosion; capping these piles and tailings piles with soil; planting grasses or other plants that will benefit wildlife or grazing stock and help prevent erosion; directing water flow with French drains and other means to minimize the contact of meteoric water with potentially acid-generating sulfides in the dumps, heaps, and tailings piles; removing buildings; and eliminating roads to minimize unnecessary future entry by vehicles. A mine is not closed until reclamation is complete, but as discussed in this report, in some circumstances reclamation may never be accomplished fully, and long-term monitoring will be necessary. POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF HARDROCK MINING From exploration through post-closure, hardrock mining has the potential to cause environmental impacts. In addition to the obvious disturbance of the land surface, mining may affect, to varying degrees, groundwater, surface water, aquatic biota, aquatic and terrestrial vegetation, wildlife, soils, air, and cultural resources. Actions based on environmental regulations may avoid, limit, control, or offset many of these potential impacts, but mining will, to some degree, always alter landscapes and environmental resources. Regulations intended to control and manage these alterations of the landscape and the environment in an acceptable way are generally in place and are updated as new technologies are developed to improve mineral extraction, to reclaim mined lands, and to limit environmental impacts. Therefore, the committee emphasizes that these potential impacts will not necessarily occur, and when they do, they will not occur with the same intensity in all cases. Many of the impacts discussed in this section of the report would violate current regulatory requirements and standards and would be subject to enforcement actions. Nevertheless, an understanding of the potential for mining to cause environmental impacts is essential to assessing and improving the regulation of hardrock mining on federal lands. A more detailed discussion with documentation of potential environmental impacts of hardrock mining can be found in Appendix B. In this section the Committee provides a brief overview of some of these potential impacts.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS Potential Impacts on Water Quality If not mitigated through regulation and prevention strategies, hardrock mining can cause a number of significant long-term impacts to surface water and groundwater quality. Hardrock mining of metalliferous deposits can release to the environment metals, metalloids, sulfate, cyanide, nitrate, suspended solids, and other chemicals. Acid drainage has been considered one of the most significant potential environmental impacts at hardrock mine sites (University of California, 1988; EPA, 1997b). Increased awareness of this potential problem has improved methods that prevent and treat acid drainage at the source, thus minimizing impacts to water quality, aquatic biota, and other resources. Pit lakes that develop when surface mines fill with water can cause alterations of pre-mining water quality and quantity. In addition, the discharge of groundwater withdrawn to dewater pits can cause a variety of environmental problems because these waters sometimes contain higher levels of total dissolved salts, metals, and other chemicals than the streams into which they are discharged. Potential Impacts on Aquatic Ecosystems If the water quality problems discussed above occur at a hardrock mining site, they can have significant impacts on aquatic biota. Most metals and cyanide, even at low concentrations, are toxic to aquatic life. In addition to their toxic effects, low concentrations of some metals (even below the chronic criteria) may cause fish to avoid certain waters and impair their growth. This can be an issue for anadromous (migrating from fresh to salt water) fishes such as certain threatened and endangered salmonids, which may avoid streams contaminated with metals (even at low concentrations), resulting in the elimination of that species from the watershed. Mechanized placer mining in active streams and suction dredge mining disturb to some degree streambed sediments, which provide habitat for macroinvertebrates and spawning habitat for salmonids. A streambed disturbed in this way may nearly return to its original characteristics after springtime high flows. During low-precipitation years, however, the streambed may remain unsuitable for aquatic life habitat until high flows return it more to its original characteristics.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS Potential Impacts on Water Quantity Changes in surface water and groundwater quantity that result from hardrock mining activities can have significant environmental impacts if not mitigated. For example, under certain conditions, surplus water accumulated from mine dewatering that is discharged into nearby streams can disrupt riparian ecosystems, erode or straighten stream channels, or dislodge aquatic biota. Groundwater withdrawal for mineral processing and to prevent filling of open pits and underground mines can affect local and regional groundwater quantities and levels. The presence of pit lakes can affect regional aquifers if they act as a permanent evaporative sink. Lowering of alluvial aquifers because of extensive groundwater withdrawals can directly affect riparian vegetation that depends on this water source, even some distance from a mine. Wetlands, like riparian ecosystems, are dependent on a continuous supply of water, and therefore any change in regional hydrology may affect wetlands, especially in the arid West. Many arid region wetlands develop at springs, and such wetlands and spring pools often support threatened or endangered species (e.g., pupfish). These spring wetlands may be very sensitive to changes in the hydrologic head of the regional or local aquifer resulting from groundwater withdrawal by mines or other uses (e.g., agriculture or municipal uses). Potential Impacts on the Landscape and Terrestrial Ecosystems In addition to those potential environmental impacts related to water quality and quantity, mining activities can have direct impacts on the landscape and terrestrial ecosystems. Of special concern are impacts on relatively pristine ecosystems in remote mountainous terrains where human activity has caused little disruption. Early exploratory surveying by qualified geologists has no more impact on these remote areas than geological mapping or casual recreation, but exploration activities designed to validate a mineral deposit are potentially disruptive. For example, exploration roads, and even tracks from soft-tire vehicles, may impede migration of small mammals and change behavioral patterns of larger animals. Permanent long-distance haul roads or railroads for mining purposes have the same potential impact on animal behavior as do roads and railroads used for other purposes. That is, they may alter migration patterns by creating barriers and fragmenting animal territories. Terrestrial ecosystems also can be disrupted by the introduction of non-native plant species during reclamation activities or by dispersal of seeds by vehicular traffic.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS The use of valleys for placing waste rock, leach pads, or tailings impoundments has the potential to disrupt riparian ecosystems that depend on stream flows and shallow groundwater. Although there is greater awareness today of the ecological impacts of using valleys in this way, valleys are still used in some cases for the placement of mining facilities. Valley fills destroy vegetation found within the valley and the riparian vegetation cannot be restored. Terrestrial wildlife, waterfowl, and migratory birds may be affected by hardrock mining through bioconcentration. Plants growing in contaminated sediments accumulate metals in tissues. Aquatic plants, macroinvertebrates, and fish can develop elevated levels of metals and other contaminants in their tissue. Consumption of these organisms by wildlife and birds continues the bioconcentration process, potentially creating toxic levels of metals and other chemicals in organisms that are high on the food chain. Some environments created by mining activities have the potential to benefit wildlife. For example, abandoned mine tunnels may be used by bat communities. Reclamation of waste rock sites and other surface disturbances may create extensive areas of forage that attract some species. Other Potential Environmental Impacts If not mitigated, hardrock mining activities can lead to other potential environmental impacts, including pollution of air and soils with metals and sulfur dioxide from smelter emissions; generation of fugitive dust; alteration of soils, including increased erosion; and generation of noise, which can disrupt wildlife and modify human behavior. Cumulative Effects Although a single mining operation may create its own set and degree of environmental impacts, a regional concentration of mines may pose problems of cumulative impacts. For example, groundwater withdrawal at a single mine has the potential to create a deep cone of depression in the local aquifer. As the cone expands over time, it may join those created by neighboring mines and lower the regional water table, which in turn may decrease or terminate flow in streams and springs some distance from the mines. Similarly, contaminated drainage or leachate from waste rock dumps, heap leach pads, or tailings ponds at a number of mines may cause environmental problems even when a single mine would not be sufficient to lower stream water quality below acceptable concentration levels. Other issues involving cumulative

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS impacts include the potential for contamination of groundwater aquifers, fugitive dust and air pollution from tailings and road surfaces, smelter emissions, and landscape degradation from large mine operations in the same general area. Although most of the possible environmental effects of mining discussed in the previous sections are in the context of individual mine operations, the potential for cumulative impacts also should be considered. Long-Term Monitoring Monitoring of environmental conditions and responses to human activities is needed to measure changes in the environment, and to determine the effectiveness of mitigation procedures. Monitoring is applicable to the various stages of mining from exploration, through development and extraction, to closure, reclamation, and post-closure. Baseline monitoring is essential to establish conditions prior to any mining activity and to provide the conditions against which future monitoring data can be compared. Monitoring during mining should address the implementation and effectiveness of environmental controls and compliance with regulations. Long-term monitoring can be used to address the effectiveness of mine closure activities, to validate predictive models, and to follow long-term responses to post-closure conditions. Long-term monitoring also may capture unexpected events that could alter environmental conditions. Long-term monitoring must be properly designed to measure those attributes that offer useful data on changes and/or sustainability of resources affected by mining activity and post-closure conditions. CHANGING CONTEXTS Federal and state agencies have been active in developing the existing regulatory framework, which is focused on managing the types of mining activities common during the last two decades. However, mining is not a static activity. Substantial changes are occurring in mining and environmental technologies. Market conditions for many minerals vary significantly over time, and changes in the regulatory environment are themselves affecting the nature of new mining proposals. Socio-economic changes in U.S. mining regions and the nation as a whole may have a profound impact on future mining. Regulatory and land management agencies will need to attend to these issues if the agencies are to be sufficiently flexible, technically proficient, and able to adapt and respond to changes.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS Changes in Technology All phases of mining have undergone substantial technological change over the last few decades. Exploration uses remote-sensing techniques, improved conceptual models, new geochemical and geophysical instrumentation, statistical analyses and visualization of large data sets, and global positioning system capabilities, many of which were unknown two decades ago. Larger excavation equipment has allowed ore to be extracted from larger and deeper pits and has made open-pit mining feasible in areas where it would not have been possible previously. Cyanide-leaching technologies have largely replaced traditional beneficiation and some types of gold ore milling now make it economical to process ores of much lower grade. Similar changes can be expected in the future. With the depletion of large-scale, low-grade surface ore deposits, increased consideration is being given to developing underground mines. For example, in the United States the extraction of uranium has shifted from a traditional mining and beneficiation process to an in situ process that depends on injecting a solution into the ground to leach the uranium from the ore without excavating the ore deposits. The leachate is collected through a system of wells, and the mineral is extracted with little surface disturbance; the technique creates a new threat to groundwater supplies, however, and care must be taken to avoid contamination of groundwater. Such in situ processes have been used for years for sulfur and potash, and may become commercially viable for certain other types of ore deposits (including hardrock minerals) as well. Additional technological advances may make it possible to mine deposits that, for a variety of geological, geochemical, and environmental reasons, are considered infeasible today. In many cases technological changes in the mining industry, as in other industries, will respond to increased concern about environmental degradation. Each change in technology presents new regulatory questions and challenges, one of which is to be able to predict the long-term effects of a new technology. The regulatory agencies will need to have the expertise to respond effectively to such changes and encourage the continued development of more environmentally friendly technologies. Changing Market Conditions Changes in market conditions can be even more dramatic and occur over a much shorter period than changes in technology. For example, the rising price of gold during the 1980s was a major stimulus to the rapid increase in gold mining on federal lands, but more recently (since 1992) gold prices in general

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS have fallen as additional mines are developed in the United States and abroad and as central banks reduce their gold holdings. Other minerals have seen similar variations in recent prices as a result of such disparate events as the discovery and development of new ore deposits; changes in the political and economic situation in producing countries; technological changes in the mineral-consuming industries that can substantially change the demand for a mineral; world economic conditions; and speculation. Regulation in the United States has been trying to catch up with such market-driven trends as the rapid increase in gold mining during the 1980s. These up and down trends have occurred in the recent past for uranium, copper, and silver; similar trends probably will occur for the same or other minerals in the future. In one sense, rising prices present a relatively favorable economic environment for imposing new regulations, because the mining companies are eager to extract the mineral while prices are high and while they can afford the cost of increased environmental protection. With falling prices these permitting negotiations may become much more difficult, and some existing mines and mining companies may become unprofitable. One predictable result is temporary closure of existing mines until prices recover. If prices do not rebound, or if other unfavorable events transpire, temporary closures may become permanent. This means that regulatory approaches must address the challenge of falling prices to assure that resources are available to pay for site reclamation and post-closure costs. Changes in the Regulatory Environment The substantial changes that have taken place in the U.S. regulatory environment over the last two decades have also had a significant impact on the characteristics of the mining industry. While formerly high mineral prices may have attracted operations with insufficient capital and staying power, it is only the larger, more established firms that can afford to make the investment in time, extensive data collection, complex analyses, and expensive environmental protection measures that the state and federal regulations currently require. This is likely to be a positive trend for the environment, for these companies have a strong ongoing interest in seeing the process work smoothly. Because they are involved for the long haul, they will go to great lengths to avoid creating problems that may cause regulators to be reluctant to approve modifications to their existing plans or proposals for new operations. They also have a strong interest in ensuring that other companies behave properly as

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS well, because they are aware of how environmental failures can have a negative impact on their ability to operate. On the other hand, under conditions of lower metal prices, existing operations with insufficient capital may not be able to afford the continued cost of environmental protection and may abandon their operations prior to full reclamation. If financial assurances are insufficient, the public will be responsible for reclamation and post-closure costs. Regulatory systems must be able to protect the environment under both higher and lower metal price conditions by requiring adequate financial assurances and including flexible, performance-based standards that do not stifle innovation. The Committee received testimony from senior officers of mining companies as well as other evidence that delays and uncertainties associated with the U.S. regulatory environment are causing mining companies to replace domestic operations with overseas projects, a trend that is already strongly demonstrated in exploration. There are, of course, many other factors that affect such decisions, such as the availability of rich, easily mined deposits. This trend could be reversed by changes in the regulatory or political environment in foreign countries. Such changes, combined with the adoption of more efficient regulatory systems in the United States, could encourage companies to pursue mineral exploration opportunities in the United States more aggressively. Like mining technologies, regulatory programs evolve. A clear demonstration of this evolution is the growth of new state reclamation and mining waste statutes and regulations over the last two decades. Socio-economic Changes The population of many of the western mining states is increasing rapidly, often with people who come from regions where hardrock mining has not been a common activity. Consequently, new residents may have values and interests that differ substantially from those of other residents who depend on mining for jobs and other economic opportunities. In addition, the U.S. population today generally expects more from its federal lands—more recreational opportunities, more wildlife and habitat protection, more watershed protection, more timber and forage production, more historic and cultural preservation, more sensitivity to tribal concerns, as well as more mineral activities. It is likely to become increasingly difficult to find sites that will not stimulate some opposition from groups with competing values and interests in the same lands. This array of changes in technology, mineral prices, regulatory practice, and in socio-economic factors poses a profound challenge for federal land managers.

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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT The Committee has organized this report to respond to the three points of the statement of task. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the report. Chapter 2 addresses the first point regarding the current regulatory requirements for mining on federal lands and time requirements for environmental review and permitting. Chapter 3 covers the second point regarding the adequacy of current regulatory requirements to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of federal lands. Chapter 4 speaks to the third point regarding recommendations and conclusions about how federal and state regulatory requirements and programs can be coordinated to ensure environmental protection, increase efficiency, avoid duplication and delay, and identify the most cost-effective manner for implementation. Appendix A provides an introduction to mining, its purposes, and its potential environmental impact. Appendix B discusses in some detail the potential environmental impacts of mining. Appendix C contains compilations of federal and state permitting, operating, and reclamation requirements and supplements the presentation of regulatory requirements in Chapter 2. Appendix D addresses research needs and supplements the discussion of this topic in Chapters 3 and 4. Appendix E discusses financial assurance for mining operations. Appendixes F and G list those persons who supplied input to the Committee. Appendix H provides biographical sketches of the Committee members. Technical terms and acronyms are defined, respectively, in the glossary and list of acronyms at the end of the report.

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