Federal Land Management:

An Assessment of Hardrock Mining Damage

RCED-88-123BR: Published: Apr 19, 1988. Publicly Released: Apr 19, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information regarding: (1) unreclaimed federal land resulting from hardrock mining operations in 11 western states; (2) federal and state expenditures to reclaim hardrock mine sites; and (3) state requirements regarding the reclamation of such sites.

GAO found that, of an estimated 424,049 acres of unreclaimed federal land in the 11 states: (1) 281,581 acres involved abandoned, suspended, or unauthorized mining operations and would cost about $284 million for reclamation; (2) 142,648 acres were current mining operations requiring eventual reclamation; (3) 162,911 acres required surface reshaping or recontouring for reclamation; and (4) 157,322 acres required reseeding for reclamation. GAO also found that: (1) Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming spent about $2.9 million from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund and from mine operators' fines and fees to reclaim damaged federal land, while the other six states spent no funds; (2) the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service have spent $363,523 since 1978 to reclaim abandoned hardrock mine sites on federal land; (3) eight states had reclamation requirements regarding mining operations application, site inspection, and financial guarantees; (4) Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico did not have reclamation requirements, but had laws allowing state regulation of mining operations as they affected water and air quality and hazardous waste; and (5) BLM and the Forest Service generally had agreements regarding agency responsibilities with most of the eight states with reclamation requirements.

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