Mining rules exceed congressional intent (surprise)

By Vin Suprynowicz
web posted November 27, 2000

It's interesting to watch how a senator who usually play mouthpiece to the interests of Big Government can suddenly transform himself into Hank the Backhoe Rebel when those bureaucratic sage hens come home to roost.

Perhaps sensing the cool winds of public disenchantment with extremist policies which place the convenience of bugs and weeds above the nation's need for natural resources (and above the jobs created by such industries), after a decade of work the Bureau of Land Management finally rushed out its proposed new hard-rock mining regulations last week, apparently hoping to get them into effect in January, before a new and more sensible Republican administration may (just possibly) get sworn into office and find its feet.

On the surface, proposed revisions to the 20-year-old Rule 3809 -- which governs surface mining on BLM property -- sound sensible.

Mine operators would be required to file a plan of operation for all hard-rock mining on BLM-managed land, as well as a "notice of intent" in cases where exploration will "disturb" an area of five acres or less. Companies would also be held liable for the cost of restoring the site after a mine is closed.

But the new regulations would also allow the BLM to reject a plan of operation -- that is, to bar mining on otherwise legally filed and proved-up claims -- if the agency determines mining would cause "substantial irreparable harm to land and resources" which cannot be "effectively mitigated."

Let us ponder for a moment the startling breadth of this provision. What is the most valuable "resource" on any land being mined? By definition, it is the stuff being dug out. (No one with a franchise to sell hotdogs to the tourists at Yellowstone would be likely to give it up in exchange for the rights to dig up the geyser fields in search of a few dumptrucks full of calcium. If there is a more valuable "resource" present, mining never occurs in the first place.)

And what does a miner intend to do with a metal or mineral "resource"? Why, to break it up, smelt it down, load it into box cars, and haul it away, of course. Mining by its very nature does "irreparable harm" to the most valuable resource present. Gold does not grow back.

But even if the BLM potentates show common sense (which would be a first), and the only "resource" taken under consideration is the future availability of the land for the grazing activities of our precious coyote, jackrabbit, and three-fingered fruit bat, in what version of reality outside the ravings of shopping-cart outpatients does a nation deprive itself of gold, copper, titanium, uranium, and who know what other vital components of a modern industrial economy, to preserve in pristine condition 5 acres at a time amidst millions of square miles of the most God-forsaken mesquite shrub even created?

"This is terrible news for the state of Nevada," and could cost the Silver State as many as 3,200 mining-related jobs, warns U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.


Sen. Harry Reid agrees, stating he was "quite disappointed" with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who directed the BLM to release the new regulations.

"He's had this -- almost a fetish -- since he started to try to do something on 3809," the senator said last week, putting on his "champion of the home-state miners" hat.

"We've stopped him time and time again. There's no question these regulations go beyond the scope of congressional intent," Sen. Reid continued.

The senator is right. Of course they do.

But what's bitterly ironic here is that Washington has become a veritable ant farm of self-willed bureaucrats taking broad and ill-considered "laws" as authorization to craft regulations of demonic intricacy and Draconian effect. They do it every day. And while Republicans have been better opponents of this loosening of the legislative bowels in word than in deed -- that is to say, while there's plenty of bipartisan blame to go around -- it is the bureaucratic enablers among Sen. Reid's Democratic cohorts who have done the most to create this mess over the past 65 years.

Orrin HatchJust as his opposite number, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, loves the FDA and the straightjacket it applies to American medical innovation ... except in the one and only case where it threatens to over-regulate the purveyors of natural herbal remedies, firms which happen to be predominantly headquartered in, um, that would be ... Utah, so does our Sen. Reid remain blissfully silent as Washington's busy bureaucratic beavers set about crippling industry and commerce in any of the other 49 states.

But let them play their usual game with our own hard-rock miners, and suddenly the senator is shocked -- shocked! -- to find the regulators "going beyond the scope of congressional intent"!

A 1999 report from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences concluded most current mining regulations are sufficient to protect the environment, providing they are equitably enforced. The "revised" Rule 3809 should indeed be nipped in the bud.

Now, if only Minority Whip Harry Reid could see his way clear to similarly champion the cause of the thousands of overtaxed and overregulated industries located ... elsewhere.

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and editor of Financial Privacy Report (subscribe by calling Ned at 952-895-8757.)

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