Federal land management agencies historically have given support to such public land uses as mining, logging, and grazing. Now they are giving as much attention to such issues as watershed protection and clean water for public use, wildlife habitat, wilderness, ecosystem preservation, and endangered species. Because these are public lands, they must support the full range of public values. To fulfill this responsibility they must provide information on all aspects of the public lands and encourage the public to use that information in expressing its interests and concerns.
The public is entitled to confidence that public lands are environmentally protected during exploration and mining activities. Federal and state laws, regulations, policies, and procedures go far in assuring this protection, but they are not sufficient. Changes in public values, environmental understanding, mining and reclamation technology, and the federal land management and regulatory agencies demand an extraordinary effort to promote public education, involvement, scrutiny, and trust in the coordination of environmental protection and management of mining on federal lands. The foregoing cannot be achieved solely through public relations programs. Public confidence also cannot be achieved with the currently inadequate management information systems, as discussed in earlier sections. The NEPA process is well suited to help achieve the objectives, but its effectiveness suffers from inadequate participation by many agencies and constituencies. Public confidence in the land management agencies is compromised if the public lacks the ability to track compliance with land use decisions.
The Committee believes that the recommendations in this report, if adopted, will significantly benefit public education and participation, and contribute to a healthy balance between mining and the environment. Recommendations 11 and 13 in the next chapter address issues related to public participation and availability of information about mining operations.
The analysis of hardrock mining-related issues in this chapter leads to the Committee's conclusions and recommendations presented in Chapter 4, which are based on the elements needed for an effective regulatory program as outlined in the introduction of this chapter. The analysis shows a need for correcting some gaps and inadequacies in the regulations themselves, for improving implementation of the regulations, and for increasing the availability and quality of scientific information. Ignoring these needs for corrections and improvements in the face of rapidly changing technology, economics, and environmental concerns puts the environment, the public, and the mining industry at risk.