RENO, Nev. Mining industry leaders cheered and environmentalists threatened legal action after the Bush administration announced a plan to repeal Clinton-era mining regulations as a step toward reversing declines in mine expansion and exploration.
The changes, announced Thursday by the Interior Department, eliminate the interior secretary's short-lived authority to block new mines on federal land where they could harm communities and the environment.
The rules were adopted under President Clinton at the urging of environmentalists, but Interior Secretary Gale Norton put such "veto power" on hold when she took office in January. The power will be eliminated for good as part of the new rules, scheduled to go into effect on Tuesday.
Instead of listening to the voices of Western citizens who have been calling for reform of an irresponsible mining industry, Secretary Norton seems only to heed the demands of that industry.
The Clinton regulations applied to U.S. miners of hard-rock minerals, mostly gold, silver and copper, which are common in Western states.
Conservationists said the changes will negate important gains that had been made in protecting the environment. They said they plan to sue.
"Secretary Norton has taken away citizens' rights to challenge the worst mines," said Roger Flynn, director of the Western Mining Action Project, a conservation group based in Boulder, Colo.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said mining in Nevada the state's second-leading industry after tourism has been hurt by overregulation pursued by Clinton and former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
"I'm happy to work with the environmental community on mining reform, but they want all or nothing, so they are getting nothing," Reid said.
The value of mining for metals in the United States fell from $13 billion in 1996 to $9.9 billion in 2000, the National Mining Association said.
"Mine development is down 85 percent over the last five years and that's strictly because of the kind of rules" put in place under the Clinton administration, said Dave Hyatt, Glamis Gold Ltd.'s vice president for investor relations in Reno.
Lexi Shultz, legislative director for the Mineral Policy Center, a conservation group based in Washington, said Norton was turning "her back on the Western communities she claims she wants to engage."
"Instead of listening to the voices of Western citizens who have been calling for reform of an irresponsible mining industry, Secretary Norton seems only to heed the demands of that industry," she said.
Tom Myers, executive director of the Great Basin Mine Watch in Reno, said the rule changes gut federal standards that are key to protecting against groundwater pollution.
Flynn said he was confident federal courts would find the administration's move illegal and "overturn this ill-advised end run around federal law."
© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press