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Legislative and Regulatory Update

• Roadless Rule
The Bush administration had the right to overturn a ban on road construction in portions of national forests, but may have needed to weigh possible environmental effects at the same time, a federal judge said.

US District Judge Elizabeth Laporte said the Forest Service appeared to be “on solid ground” last year when it reversed Clinton’s Roadless Rule.

But she questioned whether the agency violated federal law by skipping environmental studies—the heart of two lawsuits brought by 20 environmental groups and the states of California, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington. The cases have since been consolidated.

Laporte said she did not know when she would issue a final decision.

The legal dispute stems from the Clinton-era rule that prohibited logging, mining and other development on 58.5 million acres of forestland in 38 states and Puerto Rico.

Timber companies dependent on national forest land and some western states challenged the Clinton rule, and the Bush administration, in May 2005, replaced it with a voluntary state-by-state petition process.


• Eastern Oregon miners forced out of water
A federal judge has ordered that gold mining operations along the North Fork of the Burnt River in Baker County, Oregon, be suspended.

Environmentalists had filed a lawsuit against the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, claiming that allowing mining in this area violated the Clean Water Act.

Judge Papak agreed. “The Forest Service may not ignore or defer its responsibility to remedy existing water pollution in the project area based on a misguided notion that the right to mine trumps federal and state environmental laws,” wrote Judge Papak.

Key to the lawsuit were claims that the North Fork of the Burnt River and two of its tributaries do not meet federal water quality standards for temperature and clarity.

A total of 49 known mining operations are affected by the ruling.


• Colorado city pushes for more regulations
Environmentalists in Grand Junction, Colorado, have gathered enough signatures for a ballot measure in that city that could create additional regulations for public land users. The sponsors hope to limit the areas open to exploration, and create their own water quality and monitoring standards.

The Grand Junction City Council will decide either to pass its own version of the proposal or place it on the November ballot.

Some local residents were upset that federal oil and gas leases were sold in areas that supply drinking water to the city. The Bureau of Land Management had already agreed to suspend development of leases for one year to address residents’ concerns.

The ballot proposal would apply to logging, mining, oil and gas development, and cattle operations.


• Kensington project moves forward
US District Judge James Singleton dismissed a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s approval of the Kensington Mine’s plan to dispose of waste rock into Alaska’s Lower Slate Lake.

The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Sierra Club are expected to appeal to the 9th Circuit.

Construction continues on the Kensington Mine, operated by Coeur Alaska, a subsidiary of Coeur d’Alene Mines of Idaho. The company hopes to open the mine in 2007, and currently employs about 300 workers.

© ICMJ's Prospecting and Mining Journal, CMJ Inc.
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