• Forest Service Proposes To Revise Hardrock Mining Rules
  • May 14, 2008 | Author: Katea M. Ravega
  • Law Firm: Quarles & Brady LLP - Phoenix Office
  • Forest Service regulations governing mineral exploration and hardrock mining under the Mining Law of May 10, 1872 have not been significantly revised since 1974. A new proposed rule would at long last update these regulations applicable to locatable minerals and related operations on National Forest System lands.

    The revised hardrock mining rules would apply to prospecting, exploration, development, mining, processing and reclamation activities. According to the Forest Service, the primary purposes of the proposed revisions are to (i) bring the Forest Service hardrock mining regulations in line with requirements for federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, (ii) codify current Forest Service practices that are not reflected in the outdated regulations, and (iii) clarify and redefine certain terms and practices in light of various court rulings and concerns raised by mining operators over the years. In addition, the proposed rule change would incorporate requirements imposed by the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act with the aim of alerting the mining community that there are applicable requirements under these acts and to ensure that these requirements are reflected in the hardrock mining regulations.

    The new rules would also impose additional requirements on mining operators. The Forest Service perceives these revisions as clarifying existing requirements that are not clearly codified in the current regulations. For example, the current regulations do not specifically state that removal of structures is required during reclamation, and operators have argued that, as a result, they are not obligated to remove the structures from Forest Service lands. In an effort to resolve this issue, the proposed rule states that reclamation would require the removal of structures and equipment from Forest Service lands. The cost of complying with this requirement would be factored into a reclamation bond's required coverage.

    The proposed revisions also include a new definition of "significant disturbance of surface resources" that will provide general criteria for evaluating the significance of the disturbance of surface resources. The extent of disturbance of surface resources affects the timing and extent of the notice and permitting requirements, which become more comprehensive in the event of significant surface disturbances.

    The federal code sections affected by the proposed revisions are 36 CFR Parts 223, 228, 261, 292 and 293. The proposed rule is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-5746.pdf. Comments can be submitted to the Forest Service until May 27, 2008.