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Know the West

Mining may need some brakes

  Outdated federal mining regulations cause environmental disasters, says the Mineral Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Its 32-page report, Six Mines, Six Mishaps: Six Case Studies of What's Wrong With Federal and State Hardrock Mining Regulations and Recommendations for Reform, describes a wide range of mining sites that have "slipped through the loopholes of regulations," says the center's Krista Dahlberg. One "mishap" described by the center reoccurred over decades at New Mexico's Molycorp molybdenum mine. Ernie Atencio, one of seven contributors to the report, says Molycorp violated the Clean Water Act and harmed Red River fisheries by allowing more than 100 slurry spills. Five other case studies document similar damage from gold, silver and uranium mines across the West. The report recommends tougher federal laws regulating acid mine drainage, mine inspection, mine bonding and mine reclamation.

The Mineral Policy Center's report can be obtained free by calling 202/887-1872, or can be seen at www.mineralpolicy.org.

Six Mishaps isn't the only mining study on the street. Because the Department of the Interior has sought to strengthen its mining code over the past three years, Congress, led by Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, commissioned the National Academy of Sciences to prepare an evaluation of current mining laws.

The $800,000 result, Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands, was released one day after Six Mishaps. It finds that "the existing array of federal and state laws regulating mining is generally effective in protecting the environment." The 260-page study, however, recommends stricter enforcement of current laws and better on-the-ground information management. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who recently introduced a rider to increase the amount of mining waste allowed on public lands, lauded the academy's work: "The NAS study should lay to rest any further debate about the Department of the Interior's efforts to rewrite its mining regulations," the senator said.

The academy's report, written by a committee of 13 academics, mining corporation representatives and independent consultants, can be viewed at www.nas.edu. For a hard copy, available in January, call 800/624-6242 .

* Ali Macalady