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Abandoned Mines: Information on the Number of Hardrock Mines, Cost of Cleanup, and Value of Financial Assurances

GAO-11-834T Published: Jul 14, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2011.
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The General Mining Act of 1872 helped foster the development of the West by giving individuals exclusive rights to mine gold, silver, copper, and other hardrock minerals on federal land. However, miners often abandoned mines, leaving behind structures, safety hazards, and contaminated land and water. Four federal agencies--the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)--fund the cleanup of some of these hardrock mine sites. From 2005 through 2009, GAO issued a number of reports and testimonies on various issues related to abandoned and current hardrock mining operations. This testimony summarizes some of the key findings of these reports and testimonies focusing on the (1) number of abandoned hardrock mines, (2) availability of information collected by federal agencies on general mining activities, (3) amount of funding spent by federal agencies on cleanup of abandoned mines, and (4) value of financial assurances for mining operations on federal land managed by BLM. In 2005, GAO recommended that BLM strengthen the management of its financial assurances, which BLM generally implemented. BLM also agreed to take steps to address additional concerns raised by GAO in 2008.

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Coal miningEnvironmental monitoringEnvironmental protectionFederal legislationFederal property managementLand managementLand reclamationPollution controlPublic landsSafetyRisk managementRisk assessment