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Legislative and Regulatory Update

• Rock Creek mine approved again; environmentalists file another lawsuit
The Forest Service reissued its approval of the Rock Creek mine in northwestern Montana. The proposed mine would tunnel under a portion of the Cabinet Mountains along the Montana-Idaho border to reach a promising silver and copper ore body.

In December 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a biological opinion that approved the Rock Creek mine after including mitigation to minimize effects on grizzlies. The Forest Service and Montana Department of Environmental Quality followed with approved permits.

Environmental extremists filed suit to try and block the mine. In March 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew their opinion, stating that additional concerns from environmentalists needed to be addressed. They issued a new opinion that included additional protections, and the Forest Service followed by reissuing their approval in late June 2003.

Environmental extremist groups, led by the Sierra Club and the Mineral Policy Center, have already filed another suit to try and block the project, saying the additional restrictions imposed on the mine don’t go far enough. Sterling Mining Co. continues to press forward despite the harassment from extremists.

• Great Basin Mine Watch loses appeal
Elko, Nevada (AP)—The Nevada Environmental Commission has upheld the state’s renewal of a dewatering permit for Newmont Mining Corp.’s Gold Quarry operations.

In the unanimous vote, the commission denied Great Basin Mine Watch’s appeal that claimed the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection erred in granting the revised permit to replace the original 1994 permit.

“I am very pleased with the outcome. Both sides did a good job. The decision shows the division has public health and the environment in mind,” NDEP Administrator Allen Biaggi told the Elko Daily Free Press.

Newmont is dewatering Gold Quarry, and the water pumped from the mine that isn’t used for irrigation is cooled and discharged into Maggie Creek, which runs into the Humboldt River.

Paul Pettit, manager of environmental compliance and hydrology for Newmont’s eastern Nevada operations, testified Newmont is dewatering at a rate of 12,000 gallons per minute and expects to reach 16,000 to 17,000 gpm during the current expansion project at Gold Quarry.

Although the commission ruled in NDEP’s favor, the panel asked the agency to consider increasing the water monitoring that was reduced in the revised permit.

• Roadless Rule declared illegal again by Federal Court
Here we go again. US District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer declared the Clinton-era Roadless Rule illegal on July 15, 2003.

Environmentalists immediately vowed to appeal the ruling.

Judge Brimmer’s decision contradicts a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that stated the rule could stand. However, any appeal of Judge Brimmer’s decision will have to go through the 10th Circuit, which many view as a less liberal court.

This latest case was filed on behalf of Wyoming. The state has 3.5 million acres of national forests that could have been subjected to the provisions of the Roadless Rule.

The future of the Roadless Rule is now unclear. The Bush administration, following the 9th Circuit ruling,  recently announced they would let the rule take effect but allow individual governors to apply for exemptions. It’s expected that the administration will put a stop to the rule based on this latest court decision.

• Off-highway vehicle restrictions in North and South Dakota and Montana
Cars, trucks, all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles will be required to stay on roads and trails on Bureau of Land Management lands in North and South Dakota and in Montana.

BLM published the new rules in the Federal Register and the rules apply to approximately 5.8 million acres in the three states. Citizens will be allowed off roads and trails to travel up to 300 feet to get to a campsite.

• Comments needed for new off-road emission and fuel standards
The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new emission standards for off-road engines. The proposed changes would require the phasing in of technology designed to reduce air pollutants and sulfur reductions in non-road diesel fuel.

The new engine standards would begin with the 2008 model year. The diesel fuel changes would begin in mid-2007.

The document can be obtained by calling (734) 214-4636 or can be read online at www.regulations.gov/freddocs/03-09737.htm

Comments are due by August 20, 2003. Comments may be submitted by mail to: Air Docket, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode: 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Washington, DC 20460, Attention Docket ID No. A-2001-28.

• California administration moves to block mining; governor faces recall
California Governor Gray Davis’ efforts to garner support from environmentalists and prevent open pit mining in his state have put him at odds with several county administrations.

The State Mining and Geology Board, under direction from the Davis administration, recently enacted regulations to require any new open pit metallic mines to include backfilling, effectively preventing any new metallic mines in the state because of the costs involved. Mines with approved plans and “financial assurance” already in place as of September 1, 2002, were exempted from the new regulations.

Golden Queen Mining Company had their Soledad Mountain Project approved by Kern County and BLM in 1998. The plan included reclamation and financial assurance, reported the Desert News.

According to Scott Denney of the Kern County Planning Department, John Parrish, executive director of the mining board, is trying to stop the project because no monies were actually deposited by the deadline. Denney stated that Parrish wanted evidence that a deposit of even a trivial amount had been made. The county does not have the same advance payment requirements as the state. Parrish did not return calls from the Desert News requesting comment.

Davis’ political future is in jeopardy now that a recall effort appears to have gathered enough signatures to force a special recall election. The jobs and income generated from a new mine would be a welcome event in Kern County, and in a state awash in a $34 billion deficit.

The state has stopped making payments for countless services because the deadline for a new budget was not met. State legislators are in a protracted battle. Republicans have agreed to pass a budget if it does not include new taxes, but Democrats insist on tax increases as part of the package. Over 30,000 state employees have been added to the state payrolls since Davis took office according to Citizens Against Government Waste.

• A few pending bills…
Sam Graves (R-Missouri) introduced HR1517, which would prohibit additional land acquisition because state and federal governments already possess 40% of land in the US. The bill would require the Land and Water Conservation Fund to use funds for maintenance purposes only.

Butch Otter (R-Idaho) introduced HR1153, which would place a ten-year limit on Wilderness Study areas. If the area is not designated as Wilderness in that time frame, then the land would revert back to multiple use.

Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced HR701, which would return unused military lands seized in 1940 to the original owners.

HR353, introduced by John Duncan Jr. (R-Texas) would require BLM to dispose of lands recommended for sale by the Department of Interior.

HR1662, introduced by Greg Walden (R-Oregon), would require use of the “best scientific and commercial data available” through the use of a transparent, independent, scientific peer review process before a designation could be made under the Endangered Species Act.

Senator Craig Thomas (R-Wyoming) has introduced several bills. S369 would require more thorough biological evidence of a species being endangered before it could be listed, and add a greater role for states. S372 would require federal agencies to grant state and local governments “cooperating agency” status in the preparation of Environment Impact Statements, giving states more control over the process. S1038 would stop federal land acquisitions in any state where the federal government already owns 25 percent. 
© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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