Public Lands:

Interior Should Ensure Against Abuses From Hardrock Mining

RCED-86-48: Published: Mar 27, 1986. Publicly Released: Mar 27, 1986.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

James Duffus, III
(202) 512-7756
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

GAO evaluated how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) carries out its mining claim recording and environmental protection responsibilities under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, focusing on BLM procedures for ensuring that: (1) it gets enough information to determine the location and validity of mining claims on federal lands; and (2) mined lands are adequately reclaimed once mining activity ends. GAO conducted its work at 10 BLM offices in western states, where most of the mining activity within BLM jurisdiction occurs.

GAO found that: (1) while all 10 BLM offices review claims to ensure that claim holders have provided adequate location information, not all of the offices check to ensure that claims include a map or geographic reference; (2) some BLM officials believe that a map or geographic reference is necessary to adequately establish a claim's location; and (3) in cases where BLM does not adequately check location information, it may be unable to obtain further information from claim holders, if necessary. GAO also found that: (1) BLM failed to inspect more than half of the mining sites that began operations in 1981 to determine whether they had been adequately reclaimed; (2) of the sites BLM inspected, 39 percent had not been reclaimed at the time of inspection; (3) there were a number of sites in the 10 states which showed varying degrees of environmental damage, including deep trenches, open pits, and improperly disposed waste; and (4) while BLM can require mine operators to post bonds to cover the costs of reclamation, it only does so for operators with a record of noncompliance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 12, 1986, BLM instructed its state directors to screen mining claims when recorded.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, BLM, to establish a uniform policy to review mining claim location information when the claims are recorded with BLM to ensure that the location information provided contains sufficiently detailed descriptions to enable land managers to find the location of claimed federal lands.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On May 12, 1986, BLM instructed its state directors to screen mining claims when recorded.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should require the Director, BLM, to establish a uniform policy to review mining claim location information when the claims are recorded with BLM to ensure that only those mining claims located on lands open to mineral exploration and development are recorded with BLM. Mining claims located on federal lands after the lands were withdrawn should be formally declared invalid by BLM.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Interior stated that, because of ever shrinking budgets, it needed to target management attention on a more limited bonding program aimed at those activities most likely to cause degredation. The targeted activities are primarily those conducted by claim holders who have a record of reclamation requirements noncompliance. Interior plans no further action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that federal lands damaged by mining operations conducted under the Mining Law of 1872 are reclaimed, the Secretary of the Interior should: (1) base his decision on whether to require a reclamation bond on the significance of land disturbance likely to result from the mining operation; and (2) require mine operators to post a bond in an amount large enough to cover the estimated costs of reclamation if their operations could cause significant land disturbance.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The importance of this recommendation is closely associated with the recommendation on bonding. Because Interior does not plan to adopt a major part of that recommendation, and because Interior plans to address the intent of this recommendation, better reclamation through improved compliance inspections, this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To enable BLM to better monitor the status of mining operations and operators' compliance with reclamation requirements, the Secretary of the Interior should amend the surface management regulations to require operators to furnish, as part of their notices of intent or plans of operations, the anticipated completion dates of their mining operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 28, 2016

Sep 26, 2016

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 26, 2016

Jul 21, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here