Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands

T-RCED-90-106: Published: Sep 6, 1990. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 1990.

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GAO discussed various issues relating to the Mining Law of 1872 and proposed legislation regarding mineral exploration and development. GAO noted that: (1) the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service estimated that over 80 percent of 1.2 million active claims were being explored, developed, or mined; (2) BLM estimated that about 1,600 of 662,000 mining claims in 3 states have known or suspected unauthorized activities occurring on them; (3) the proposed legislation would reduce the number of invalid and inactive claims, reduce unauthorized activities, and help promote legitimate mineral development; (4) unreclaimed unauthorized activities and mining operations could create environmental and public safety hazards; (5) as a result of hardrock mining operations in 11 western states, over 280,000 acres relating to abandoned, suspended, or unauthorized operations on federal land needed reclamation at an estimated cost of $284 million; (6) BLM issued a revised policy requiring bonding of all mining operations involving more than 5 acres, operations utilizing cyanide, and all operators with established records of noncompliance; (7) a review of 20 patents issued since 1970 indicated that the government received less than $4,500, although 1988 estimates indicated the patents to be worth between $13.8 million and $47.9 million; (8) the federal government lost the opportunity to obtain revenues from hardrock minerals extracted from lands passed into private ownership through patenting; and (9) the proposed legislation would eliminate the patent provision of the Mining Law of 1872, thereby retaining public lands in federal ownership.

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