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HARDROCK MINING ON FEDERAL LANDS
cated, but generally effective. The structure reflects regulatory responses to geographical differences in mineral distribution among the states, as well as the diversity of site-specific environmental conditions. It also reflects the unique and overlapping federal and state responsibilities. Conclusions that address overall environmental protection and program efficiency related to technical issues, regulations, or guidance include:
Federal land management agencies' regulatory standards for mining should continue to focus on the clear statement of management goals rather than on defining inflexible, technically prescriptive standards. Simple “one-size-fits-all” solutions are impractical because mining confronts too great an assortment of site-specific technical, environmental, and social conditions. Each proposed mining operation should be examined on its own merits.
If backfilling of mines is to be considered, it should be determined on a case-by-case basis, as was concluded by the Committee on Surface Mining and Reclamation (COSMAR) report (NRC, 1979). Site-specific conditions are too variable for prescriptive regulation.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service need not have identical regulations, but some changes are warranted. The two agencies have broadly similar land management mandates. There are, however, some differences in the kinds of lands they manage, in their specific responsibilities, and in their organization. Whereas some of the Committee's recommendations would make the agencies' approaches to regulating hardrock mining more similar, the Committee is not suggesting that uniformity in all aspects is necessary.
Some small mining and milling operations present environmental risks and potential financial liabilities for the public. These exposures are small by comparison to large operations, but as currently regulated they constitute a disproportionate share of the problems for the land management agencies.
Current regulations do not provide land management agencies with straightforward procedures for modification of plans of operations even with compelling environmental justification.
Federal criteria do not distinguish between temporarily idle mines and abandoned operations. This distinction is important because mines that become temporarily idle in response to cyclical metal prices and other factors need to be stabilized but not reclaimed, whereas mines that are permanently idle need to be reclaimed.
Financial risks to the public and environmental risks to the land exist whenever secure financial assurances are lacking.