Report on Public Issues, May/June 2001

Title: Report on Public Issues

Author: Larry Anna, Public Issues Committee

Publication: The Outcrop, May/June 2001, p. 18-19

Mining Law of 1872 Reform Update (11-27-00)

Mining law reform is before Congress. Although both mining industry representatives and environmentalists agree that some provisions of the law are outdated, their agreement ends there on how the law should be revised. With comprehensive mining law reform seemingly unreachable, efforts have focused on annual moratoria on mining patents and on mining regulations promulgated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The latter was the subject of a recent study by the National Research Council entitled Hardrock Mining on Federal Lands. The 1872 Mining Law: Time for Reform? is available on the National Library for the Environment website. The majority staff of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources have posted a General Mining Law Brief on their website, expressing the subcommittee majority’s view of mining law reform. The environmentalist perspective on mining law reform can be found on the Mineral Policy Center website. (From AGI’s website, http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107)

Udpdate on Energy Policy (3-18-01)

On March 15th, American Association of Petroleum Geologist’s President Marlan W. Downey testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources regarding the contribution of public lands and the outer continental shelf to domestic natural gas supply. Subcommittee Chair Barbara Cubin (R-WY) called the hearing to get ideas regarding the best way to increase the supply of natural gas from domestic sources. She stated that public lands and the outer continental shelf represent the most promising targets for gas exploration, but they are often either inaccessible because of federal environmental laws or uneconomical due to a protracted permitting process.

Downey’s testimony emphasized the role that small “mom and pop” operations play in on-shore natural gas exploration. The federal government must find ways to encourage smaller, capital-short companies to conduct onshore exploration in areas with high potential such as the Rocky Mountains.

On March 14th, the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality held a hearing to discuss the role of coal in a national energy policy. Testimony was heard applauding the announcement by President George W. Bush that carbon dioxide emissions would not be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Many of the panelists agreed that there is presently no cost-effective way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions without reducing the amount of coal being burned. (From AGI’s website, www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107)

Speaking of coal, the Los Angeles Times printed an article (“Coalbed Methane Puts Basic Needs of Water, Energy at Odds”, 3/28/01, provided to me by Gene Whitney, USGS, Energy Resources Chief). The article reiterated past concerns about coalbed methane development. Although the article had some misinformation and twisted facts, the reporter was expressing public sentiment about resource development, which is not favorable. With California’s utility problems, the White House renewing or forming energy policy, and environmental concerns over energy development, coalbed methane is becoming a hot topic in the media and legislatures.

The RMAG Board recently adopted policy on public lands (see Board Report elsewhere in this issue of the Outcrop). Logan MacMillan helped focus attention on this issue. A draft version was published in the March, 2001 Outcrop, in Susan Landon’s column. A number of members responded with strong endorsements; there were no negative comments. The policy will be distributed to various earth-science organizations, which they can use to educate their constituencies. The policy is:.

Public Lands Policy

The Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists has nearly 2000 members with an interest in the geology, and particularly resource-related geology, of the Rocky Mountain region.

The Association supports access to public lands for environmentally responsible energy and mineral resource development. The vast extent of public lands, both federal and state managed, contains discovered and undiscovered resources that are vital to maintaining and improving our standard of living and economic security. Vast amounts of public land have already been set aside for parks, wilderness, and other recreational uses. Existing federal and state laws and regulations provide for protection of the environment (air, water, biota, and culture) such that exploration and development can proceed with little or no long-term environmental impact on the bulk of public lands.

Lack of access to public lands severely restricts development of domestic energy and mineral resources. The Rocky Mountain region, dominated by public land ownership, has been identified as one of the most promising natural gas provinces in the United States.

Imports of mineral resources, including crude oil, have had an adverse impact on the domestic economy and employment. Encouraging imports of oil and other mineral resources also creates negative environmental impacts related to development of these resources in areas of the world that do not have enforceable laws and regulations. As a major consumer of energy and mineral resources, the United States should be a world leader in environmentally responsible development of its own resources.

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