Mining industry eyes Obama

President Obama’s mining policies are still unclear to those on both sides of the issue, and they are watching for every clue.

So far, most of the attention has been on administration actions in coal country, where the Obamaites have permitted more mountaintop removals opposed by environmentalists.

But in hard-rock mining states like Nevada, there is not enough evidence yet on where Obama is headed. The Bureau of Land Management must decide whether to allow a loud and dusty rock excavation project near the Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area in Southern Nevada and whether to step into regulation of the Jerritt Canyon Mine in Elko County, which has gone from closed to open to closed under state regulation this year. Plans for new equipment are supposed to reduce the mercury emitted at the site from four tons annually to “only” 175 pounds. Gov. Jim Gibbons has a record of trivializing the danger of mercury, but many state regulators began their service under previous governors.

In addition, mining law reformers are getting ready to try to change the 1872 Mining Law, a measure once described by then-U.S. Sen. Dal Bumpers as a “license to steal” because of the ease and low cost of obtaining mining rights on the public’s land.

During his campaign in the Nevada caucuses, Obama issued a position paper on the Mining Law of 1872 that made it sound like he was on the side of the mining counties without actually committing him to anything.

Bob Abbey, former longtime director of the Nevada office of the Bureau of Land Management, has been appointed by President Obama—reportedly at Sen. Harry Reid’s recommendation—to be the national director of the agency.

Desert posted a 2-year-old statement by Abbey on the 1872 law:

“The General Mining Law of 1872 that was passed by the Congress reflected the priorities of the nation at that time. Much has changed since … 1872 and, for that matter, since the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976. Today, America’s public lands are valued for much more than just commodity production, and I feel it is beneficial to all for Congress to routinely review public land laws to determine their current relevance in addressing our national interests, public demands, and expectations.

“I have gone on record many times stating that I am an advocate for responsible mining just as I am an advocate for responsible use by all public land stakeholders. I am a firm believer in BLM’s multiple use mandate and I believe that appropriate public lands, not all public lands, should continue to be accessible for mineral extraction. The current law needs to be changed so that all resource values are given the same consideration when land management agencies are making resource allocations through their land use planning processes. Under the auspices of the General Mining Law of 1872, this has not been the case.”