Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today called on the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to conduct a thorough review of mining and hardrock dumping regulations on federal land as the administration nears a March 30 deadline to respond to a lawsuit challenging existing rules.
The lawsuit, Earthworks et al. v. Department of the Interior, challenges a Bush-era standard allowing mining companies to dump large amounts of waste and hardrock on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management property without penalty. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar and U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack are among the defendants in the suit.
In a March 25 letter, Grijalva calls on both officials to reconsider the Bush rule. “It would be a huge mistake for the government to simply defend the Bush position in litigation,” the letter says. Conservation groups “are watching the administration closely on this” and would resist the administration “caving in to the mining industry and defending a Bush administration position.”
Instead, Grijalva suggests, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management – part of USDA and DOI respectively – “could simply initiate rulemaking to re-examine the position taken under the last administration.” If the administration needs time to make a final decision, the letter says, such a rulemaking would allow a thorough review.
“It’s crucial that these agencies not defend an indefensible policy,” Grijalva added after sending the letter. “Federal land isn’t a taxpayer-funded dumping ground, and it’s time the administration said so.”
The letter has special importance for Southern Arizona because of the proposed Rosemont copper mine near Tucson. The company proposes to mine on private land and dump its waste in the Coronado National Forest and portions of BLM property.
“The Bush administration opened federal land for exploitation despite the laws that hold it in trust for all Americans,” Grijalva said. “This administration has a chance to reverse that. The American people can spend millions of dollars making it easier for mining companies to dump their waste, or they can enjoy the sights and sounds of unspoiled national forests and recreational areas. A decision can no longer be delayed.”