increase efficiency, avoid duplication and delay, and identify the most cost-effective manner for implementation.”

To conduct the study the NRC established the Committee on Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands in January 1999. The Committee conducted an evidence-based analysis, taking account of scientific and technical knowledge. It was not asked to address the issue of comprehensive reform of the General Mining Law of 1872 or general problems related to abandoned mine lands. Because the Committee's charge indicated that the baseline for the study was the existing regulatory framework rather than proposed revisions to that framework, the Committee did not focus on the BLM proposal to revise its regulations governing hardrock mining; the Committee did, however, receive briefings on that proposed rule making.

The Committee concentrated on the intersection of three elements that form the context of hardrock mining on federal lands:

  1. minerals development and the factors that drive it; (Introduction and Appendix A)

  2. the natural environment and how it can be affected by hardrock mining (Introduction and Appendix B); and

  3. federal and state laws and regulations (Chapter 2 and Appendix C).

This federal lands context is governed by the General Mining Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. §22 et seq.). The law defines the system of open access to hardrock minerals on federal lands of the western United States that are not withdrawn from mineral entry. The law allows any person to stake a claim on these lands and thereby to obtain the exclusive right to extract the minerals thereon without payment of royalty to the United States and without acquiring title to the land itself. The regulation of hardrock mining and exploration operations on these “unpatented” mining claims, where title to the land remains with the United States, is the focus of this study.

A mining claimant may also obtain title to (patent) the lands by proving the location of a valuable mineral deposit on the mining claim, among other requirements, and paying the United States the statutory price ($5.00 per acre for lode claims and $2.50 per acre for placer claims). The result of over a century of mineral patenting and other conveyances of federal lands is, in many parts of the West, a patchwork of intermingled privately owned lands; state-owned lands; and federally owned lands, including unpatented mining claims. A large mine may occupy a mixture of these land ownerships, each subject to different regulatory and land management requirements.

For the purposes of this study, we use the term “hardrock minerals” as a synonym for “locatable minerals,” which is a legal term not widely used in the



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement