Legislative And Regulatory Update
February 2008 by Staff
• Bill introduced to repeal RAT
Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, along with Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, have introduced a bill to eliminate fees currently being charged to access public lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service.
SB2438 would allow the National Park Service to continue to charge entrance fees, but other agencies would only be allowed to charge fees for use of boating facilities, swimming sites and developed campgrounds.
The collection of fees began as an “experiment” in 1996 and was called the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program, but the fees became permanent when a rider was attached to a federal appropriations bill in 2004.
Opposition to the fees intensified when a 2006 audit by the Government Accountability Office found that many agencies were retaining the fees collected for their own use instead of passing them on to the Treasury Department. Over 90% of National Forests were found to have funds sitting in their own fee accounts, and 58% of National Forests had squirreled away over a year’s worth of receipts.
The unpopular fees, referred to as the Recreation Access Tax (RAT) by opposition groups like the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, may finally be overturned if legislators get enough encouragement from public land users.
Please contact your state senators and encourage them to vote for the Fee Repeal and Expanded Access Act of 2007 (SB2438).
“For a decade, the agencies have been acting as if they own our public lands,” said Kitty Benzar, spokesperson for the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition. “It’s time for the real owners—the American people—to step up and assert our rights. This bill offers us a golden opportunity to take back our precious public lands.”
• Rock Creek—Alaska
A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected an appeal by environmental groups challenging the discharge permit issued to the Rock Creek Mine in Alaska in 2006.
“On balance, we conclude that the Rock Creek Mine Project has no significant detrimental effect on the environment in and near Nome,” wrote Judge Ronald Gould.
Rock Creek is owned by NovaGold Resources and Barrick Gold. The mine is expected to produce 100,000 ounces of gold annually. More appeals are expected.
• Rock Creek—Montana
Earthjustice gave notice to the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service of their intent to sue over the other Rock Creek Mine, located in Montana and owned by Revett Minerals.
The government agencies approved of Revett’s plans in 2003, then withdrew their approval for a second evaluation after environmental groups filed a lawsuit. The agencies issued a new decision, and again approved of Revett’s plans. In fact, the agencies found that grizzly populations would be better off if the project was developed because the company agreed to purchase lands for grizzly habitat.
Revett Vice President Carson Rife stated the company hopes all remaining issues will be decided by the courts before spring so construction can begin.
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