Natural Resources and Environment:

Mining on National Park Service Lands--What Is at Stake?

EMD-81-119: Published: Sep 24, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1981.

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The Mining in the Parks Act prohibited further mineral exploration in six National Park Service (NPS) areas and placed environmental restrictions on development of existing mining claims in these areas. The act also required the Secretary of the Interior to submit to Congress studies of the environmental consequences of mining in these areas accompanied by estimated acquisition costs of mining claims. GAO reviewed the adequacy of the reports submitted and looked at the NPS management of present mining operations in the park areas and the Department of the Interior's analysis of the mineral policy implications of the act.

GAO found that Interior's reports do not provide Congress with the information that it needs to weigh the environmental effects of mining against the cost of acquiring claims in the NPS areas. The environmental reports on mining in Death Valley and Glacier Bay National Monuments are so vague that they are of little use for determining the possible environmental impacts of mining in these areas. They contain little or no discussions of the steps that could be taken to minimize adverse impacts and thereby lessen the need to acquire certain mining claims. Additionally, the acquisition cost estimates submitted to Congress to purchase certain mining claims were not supported by sufficient documentation and were unreliable and misleading. As a result, much disagreement exists as to the worth of the mining claims recommended for acquisition. Further, GAO found that Interior did not perform a thorough analysis of the need and costs of acquiring mineral properties in Death Valley and Glacier Bay National Monuments. GAO believes that the recommendations based on the environmental data submitted to Congress by Interior for the acquisition of the properties could result in court awards substantially in excess of Interior's acquisition cost estimates. In addition, GAO found that Interior has not adequately analyzed the mineral policy implications of the act. Therefore, the potential long-term effects on mineral resources remains unanswered.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Based on contact with congressional staff, it is apparent that no action is intended.

    Matter: Congress should base no decision on the Secretary of the Interior's recommendations submitted in 1979 to acquire mineral properties in Death Valley and Glacier Bay National Monuments. Before taking any action, Congress should await new recommendations by the Secretary based on more adequate analysis.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Despite repeated followups with pertinent congressional staff, no apparent action will be taken to implement the recommendation.

    Matter: Congress should consider the need for the federal government to acquire additional information regarding the mineral potential of the Death Valley National Monument area. This information could be used for any future land use decision regarding the monument. In order to better understand the economic consequences of limiting mineral production in the monument area, Congress should consider returning the supply and marketing studies concerning borate and talc minerals developed by Interior for revision and updating.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation is no longer valid because of other reorganizations made within Interior.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should remove the mineral management functions, including the mineral examination function, from the National Park Service.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Based on discussions with Park Service officials, no action is intended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should amend sections 9.9 and 9.10 of the regulations for mining on National Park Service lands to include an economic evaluation of the changes required for mining plan approval.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Although in agreement with GAO, Interior has not yet taken any action on this recommendation, and it is unlikely that any action is intended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should ensure that any future recommendations to Congress to acquire mineral properties on National Park Service lands be made only after determining what is at stake for all aspects of the public interest. Any recommendations should be based on site-specific analysis, acquisition cost estimates based on the best information available, and mineral supply and marketing analyses. This information should be developed in coordination with other pertinent Interior agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Mines, and the U.S. Geological Survey to ensure a consistent Department policy position. In addition, a description of the methodologies and supporting data used to develop the information and any limitations on the use of that information should accompany the recommendations.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to conversations with Interior officials, no action is intended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should reexamine the need to acquire any mining claims in Death Valley and Glacier Bay National Monuments based on the progress to date in regulating mining activities to prevent adverse environmental effects and submit new recommendations to Congress.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Based on conversations with Interior officials, it is apparent that no action is intended.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should notify Congress that Interior no longer supports the recommendations made in 1979 to Congress to acquire certain valid unpatented and patented mining claims in Death Valley and Glacier Bay National Monuments.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should consider the need to consolidate all of the Interior mineral management functions under a single Assistant Secretary.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

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