U.S. Federal Mining and Millsite Claims War Heats Up Again

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". . .war, waged through three U.S. presidencies, begins again in earnest."

It was déja vu all over again as environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. federal court in Washington, D.C. to rescind federal mining regulations that have been the subject of lawsuits since the days of the Clinton administration.

The plaintiffs, mainly environmental NGOs, have asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to issue an order vacating and remanding the 2008 Mining Claim Rule and the 2003 Millsite Rule, and any policies or interpretations based on these rules.

Those with long memories may recall that the Claim-Patent System under the U.S. Mining Law of 1872 has been considered outdated by environmental special interest groups since the time Clinton was president and Bruce Babbitt was secretary of the interior.

Basically, the Clinton administration aimed to toughen the regulation of mining claims and attempted to do so through the executive regulatory process. Babbitt and his staff believed mining activities could be controlled through claim fees and limits on claim holdings.

As the Clinton administration wound to its conclusion in early 2001, a flurry of last-minute regulations authored by the executive branch were aimed at slowing mine development and exploration.

However, Bush eased some of those restrictions after numerous lawsuits had been filed by mining companies seeking to ease the Clinton administration changes.

Now, the Democrats are back in the executive branch, and President Obama and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar are enacting policies and rules to outright ban the filing of mining claims in some locations, such as uranium claims near the Grand Canyon, and to restrict mining development and expansion through use of the Clean Water Act as is currently the situation in Appalachian coal mining states.

This time, the plaintiffs want the federal 2008 Mining Claim Rule, and the 2003 Millsite Rule to be declared invalid, or at least have portions of the rules declared invalid.

The environmentalists argue these rules do not comply with FLPMA, NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act. They also seek to have the BLM finally investigate whether mining and milling claims on federal public lands are still valid.

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