The Bureau of Land Management might just say
For years, critics have blasted a proposed
open-pit gold mine on public land in southeastern California,
arguing that the Glamis Imperial Corp. project would destroy both
Native American sacred sites and habitat of the threatened desert
tortoise (HCN, 8/2/99: Weighing artifacts against gold). After a
national advisory council agreed with some of these concerns, the
California BLM office asked the Interior Department to clarify the
agency's authority over the proposal. On Jan. 14, Interior said the
agency can turn down mines that harm the environment or cultural
The decision doesn't create new
regulations, says California BLM staffer Jan Bedrosian. Instead, it
states that existing environmental laws can sometimes trump the
1872 General Mining Law, the act that calls hardrock mining the
"highest and best use" of public lands. "We have the authority to
decide which should take precedence," she
The site of the proposed 1,571-acre mine is
at the intersection of several ancient trails of religious
importance to the Quechan Indian tribe, and more than 200 examples
of rock art have been found in the area. The Bureau of Land
Management has found several sites worthy of the National Register
of Historic Places, and it protected the land as a "limited-use
area" in 1980.
"We're obviously very pleased with
this decision," says Courtney Coyle, an attorney for the tribe.
"But the real question is, why has this mine gotten as far as it
Denise Jones of the California Mining
Association defends the Imperial proposal, citing its strong
environmental protections. Interior, she says, is "rewriting
property-rights protections that are included in the Mining Law."
She says she expects years of litigation if the proposal is
But mine opponents say the law is on
their side. "If the (Bureau of Land Management) approves this mine,
they'll be sitting ducks for our lawsuit," says Roger Flynn, an
attorney with the Western Mining Action Project in Boulder, Colo.
"There's no legal way to do it."