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Know the West

Weighing in on mining rules

  When the Bureau of Land Management announced in early May that it would hold forums around the West before changing its mining regulations, both mine operators and mining opponents rallied their troops. GREEN, a program of Defenders of Wildlife, sent an e-mail asking environmentalists to attend the scoping meetings "if it is humanly possible." Laura Skaer, president of the Northwest Mining Association, sent out an alert by fax: "Environmental activists are encouraging their supporters to attend. We must outnumber them."

Industry groups did outnumber citizen activists, at some meetings by a ratio of 4-to-1, and the mood was pro-industry, says the Mineral Policy Center's Aimee Boulanger. When an activist at the Phoenix, Ariz., meeting suggested that mines should not be allowed to alter public land, "the room exploded with yells, boos, hisses, outrage," she says.

Industry groups see no reason to change the current regulations that require hardrock mining companies to use the best available technologies to prevent "unnecessary or undue damage" to public lands. Environmentalists point out that, since the rules were established in 1983, hardrock mines have continued to leak cyanide and kill rivers with acid mining drainage.

The move to reform mining on BLM land came from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who directed the BLM to rewrite its regulations after Congress refused to reform the 1872 Mining Law. The BLM will use the comments from eight meetings for its rewrite, due in 1998.

An earlier attempt to change one regulation may flop. The Northwest Mining Association is suing the BLM for revising its bonding regulations without soliciting public comment since 1991.

* Heather Abel