A recent court ruling could give local communities more control over mining projects on federal land. On Dec. 30, a Nevada district court judge ruled that Washoe County has the authority to deny a company’s proposal to mine clay for cat litter near the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.
In 1999, the
Chicago-based Oil-Dri Corporation announced plans to unearth clay
on Bureau of Land Management land only a few hundred feet from the
Colony’s neighborhood in Hungry Valley, and process it into
kitty litter (HCN, 9/10/01: Nevada tribe says kitty litter plan
stinks). The BLM approved Oil-Dri’s proposal on the condition
that the company obtain a special use permit from Washoe County.
But Washoe County denied that permit, citing concerns that the mine
would contaminate the air and groundwater with arsenic, lead and
In 2002, Oil-Dri, backed by the federal
government, sued the county. Invoking the 1872 Mining Law, which
was established to encourage gold mining on federal land, Justice
and Interior Department lawyers argued that Washoe County could not
deny the right to mine on federal land. However, Nevada District
Court Judge James Hardesty disagreed.
ruling is the first to allow a local government to override the
federal mining law in response to community and environmental
safety concerns, says Western Mining Action Project attorney Roger
Flynn, who argued against Oil-Dri in court. He expects the ruling
to become a model for future court decisions.
Indian Colony Chairman Arlan Melendez believes the case’s
outcome shows that the federal government must be more considerate
of residents who live near proposed mining projects.
Oil-Dri’s representatives will not comment on the case, but
the company has until the end of January to appeal the