Request for Phosphate Information and Comments on Section 5 of H.R. 5341

EMD-81-1B: Published: Dec 1, 1980. Publicly Released: Dec 1, 1980.

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GAO was asked for its opinion on Section 5 of H.R. 5341 and for information on the phosphate situation in the United States. Section 5 would prohibit the issuance of phosphate leases in the Osceola National Forest unless and until the United States by subsequent legislation determines that the mining of the affected phosphate would be necessary to the national interest. It would give the Secretary of the Interior 3 years to determine whether valuable deposits have been discovered on 41 preference right lease applications and, if so, to exchange them for leases covering other minerals elsewhere. In the event that exchanges cannot be negotiated, the holders of the lease applications would be entitled to monetary compensation.

GAO stated that it previously reported its views on phosphate policy in a 1979 report entitled, "Phosphates: A Case Study of a Valuable, Depleting Mineral in America." In that report, GAO recommended that the Secretary of the Interior make a thorough review of the Nation's long-range phosphate position and report to Congress no later than December 1981. While Interior has stated that they are currently making the required study, they are planning to submit their overall report to Congress by December 1982, rather than 1981. GAO continues to believe that Interior must attempt to balance the country's need for minerals with other goals and objectives and that it is premature for Congress to favorably consider enacting this section of H.R. 5341. Instead, Congress should require the expeditious adjudication of the applications for preference right leases and reserve action on Section 5 until a better determination is made of the value of the affected phosphate deposits. Additionally, if Congress decides to pass this legislation, Section 5 should be amended to give the Secretary of the Interior the authority only to provide leases for other Mineral Leasing Act minerals in exchange for the legal rights any of the applicants for phosphate preference right leases may subsequently be determined to have. This change will provide the Secretary with the authority to effectuate an exchange, if the applicants are entitled to phosphate leases in the Osceola National Forest, and to take the leases for just compensation, if exchanges could not be negotiated.

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