SPOKANE, Wash. — The nation’s mining industry can expect a more favorable working climate, Bush administration officials told a receptive audience at the Northwest Mining Association’s annual convention Friday.
After eight years of what was seen as hostility toward their industry from the Clinton administration, delegates to the trade association are feeling a definite thaw in relations, NWMA executive Laura Skaer said.
“It’s so refreshing to invite people from the administration and have them come” to the annual sessions, Skaer said.
Each of the three Bush administration officials attending Friday’s session on legislation and regulatory affairs pledged to work closely with industry to soften disputed regulations approved in the closing days of the previous administration.
But many of the environmental rules will stay, they said.
The Agriculture Department, for example, wants to reinvigorate mineral exploration on national forests while promoting enlightened environmental stewardship, said Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment.
The department wants to identify deposits of strategic and economic importance on national forests, Rey said — but miners must do their “best work” or face government litigation.
Fred Ferguson, an associate solicitor with the Department of the Interior, said Interior Secretary Gale Norton thinks it is time to reform the nation’s mining laws.
In a recent letter to Congress, Norton urged lawmakers to make updating of the Mining Law of 1872 a priority in the next session.
Norton called for permanent authorization of the $100 mining claim fee, revision of the patenting system for mining claims, authorization of civil administrative penalties, authorization of a production payment system and expansion of the states’ role in managing the mining program, Ferguson said.
“She sees it as a historic opportunity to resolve long-standing issues,” she said.
Ferguson’s boss, Solicitor William G. Meyers, had been scheduled to attend, but was helping prepare Norton’s defense for a contempt-of-court trial that begins Monday over mismanagement of the nation’s Indian trust funds.
Regulations that have made mineral exploration difficult on public lands are being reviewed under a Bush administration, Ferguson said.
The so-called 3809 regulations modifying the Surface Mining Law already have been adjusted to address concerns of the mining industry, Ferguson said.
But regulations to ensure protection of the environment were maintained.
“Secretary Norton believes the reclamation of mined lands must be paid for by mine operators, not by the taxpayers,” Ferguson said.
She said disputed regulations on bonding remain in place, but other liability provisions were removed.
David Lauriski, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health, said some of the safest mines in the world are found in the United States, but called for a “national stand down” by mining companies to review their safety practices.
There have been 29 fatalities in U.S mines so far this year, compared to 46 last year.
On the Net:
Northwest Mining Association: http://www.nwma.org
Bureau of Land Management: http://www.blm.gov
National Mining Association: http://www.nma.org
Mineral Policy Center: http://www.mineralpolicy.org