Improvements in Department of the Interior Leasing of Potential Aluminum Resources Are Necessary for More Timely Decisionmaking

EMD-81-135: Published: Sep 10, 1981. Publicly Released: Sep 24, 1981.

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GAO was asked to address impediments in leasing the nonfuel mineral alunite on Federal lands. Development of alunite would produce both potash, a fertilizer, and alumina, the raw material for aluminum, a strategic material. The purpose of the review was to determine how the Department of the Interior's decentralized mineral management decisionmaking process affects the exploration and development of a nonfuel mineral. Therefore, GAO reviewed, in selected western states, all potash prospecting permit and preference right lease applications potentially affecting the exploration and development of alunite.

In its review, GAO found that excessive and unnecessary delays in processing alunite prospecting permit and preference right lease applications in several western states have frustrated the development of alunite. Since the exploration and development of such leasable nonfuel minerals as alunite cannot occur without Government approval, permitting delays without formulating alternative means of allowing exploration and development has resulted in little or no activity. However, not all delays have been attributable to Government indecision. In some cases, permittees have not aggressively pursued or reacted diligently to leasing requirements for economic, budgetary, or other internal reasons. Additionally, GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) decentralized, autonomous minerals management structure allows resource managers to administer the leasing system without consistent review of potential long-range impacts on the Nation's economy or self-sufficiency. Although BLM has initiated corrective measures to its nonfuel mineral leasing policy, the corrective measures do not address the larger question of cumulative evaluation since they are limited to BLM, nor do they affect an entire resource or industry. GAO believes, however, that neither lack of Government responsiveness nor insufficient permittee diligence should tie up disposition of valuable resources indefinitely, as appears to have been the case with alunite.

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