One of BLM’s favored “uses” on public lands threatens water

While removing wild horses and burros from public lands at a breakneck pace, the BLM is expanding other “multiple uses” of our public lands that threaten water and the environment, including mining.  –  Debbie

BinghamCanyon-landslide-april2013-Deseret

Massive landslide at the Bingham Canyon mine in Utah.  Photo: Deseret News

SOURCE:  Earthworks

PUBLICATION DATE: September 8, 2015
MINING INDUSTRY EXPLOITS CLEAN WATER ACT LOOPHOLES

The metals mining industry is the single largest source of toxic waste and one of the most environmentally destructive industries in the country.  Today’s massive mining operations involve blasting, excavating, and crushing many thousands of acres of land and treating the ore with huge quantities of toxic chemicals such as cyanide and sulfuric acid.

The mines that produce our gold, silver, copper, and uranium notoriously pollute adjacent streams, lakes, and groundwater with toxic by-products.  In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 40% of the watersheds in the western United States are contaminated from hardrock mines.  Toxic spills and acid mine drainage kill aquatic life, poison community drinking water, and pose serious health risks.

Record metal prices coupled with new technologies allow the mining industry to exploit places—and at a scale—that would not have been feasible in the past.  For example, the Pebble Partnership is proposing to build North America’s largest copper and gold mine in the remote headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, the source of the greatest runs of sockeye salmon left on earth.

Adding insult to injury, the American public receives very little in exchange for the use and destruction of the public lands where many hardrock mines are located.  Most mines are owned by foreign corporations and, unlike other extractive industries, the hardrock mining industry does not pay royalties for minerals taken from federal public lands.  What’s more, taxpayers are generally on the hook for the clean- up of abandoned mines.  EPA estimates that the half million abandoned mines across the country could cost as much as $50 billion to clean up.

Loopholes in the Clean Water Act Allow Hardrock Mines to Poison Our Waters

While there is not a single solution to the problems posed by hardrock mining, one obvious step is to prevent mines from dumping their toxic wastes into our lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Hardrock mines produce millions, sometimes billions of tons of waste. The production of one gold ring produces 20 tons of mine waste. Mine waste and tailings frequently contain toxic chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Unfortunately, it has become a common industry practice for mines to use our lakes, streams, and other waters as cheap toxic waste dumps.
In theory, the Clean Water Act (CWA) should stop this destructive practice. One of the primary goals of the act was to stop the use of the nation’s waters as disposal sites for industrial wastes. The problem is there are two loopholes in the CWA that allow many hardrock and surface coal mines to treat the nearest river valley or lake as a waste dump for massive quantities of tailings and overburden. Mines that have exploited these loopholes have had devastating impacts on local communities, fish, and wildlife populations — effects often felt for decades.
1. The first loophole is found in EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) regulations
that state that Clean Water Act protections do not apply to what the Corps calls “waste treatment systems.” This exclusion allows
mine developers to build a dam across the mouth of a valley and dump their wastes into the waters
behind the dam because these waters have become part of a “waste treatment system” and are no longer considered
to be a river, lake, or wetland deserving of protection. This legal fiction — that waters impounded by mine developers are no longer waters — defeats the very purpose and spirit of the CWA.
 
2. The second loophole resulted from a 2002 revision of regulations that changed the meaning of the word “fill” under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Section 404 was intended to regulate the disposal of wood chips, soil, plastics, clay, sand, or related materials normally associated with dredging and construction – related activities. Now, EPA and the Corps treat the discharge of tailings from hardrock mines and overburden
from coal mines as fill. The effect of this change is that hazardous contaminants from mine waste are treated the same as relatively innocuous organic building materials.
READ THE REST HERE.

14 comments on “One of BLM’s favored “uses” on public lands threatens water

  1. From AMERICAN PROSPECT
    A few excerpts from a very good article…well worth reading

    http://prospect.org/article/land-was-your-land
    by Christopher Ketcham

    ” Land-grabbing, Babbitt said, was “the oldest con game in the West.”

    The federal public land that Utah is claiming for itself is owned by you and me and some 300 million other Americans. It is a peculiar property right we each have to this commons, as we acquire it simply by dint of citizenship, and what we own is spectacular. The BLM and Forest Service lands, which include almost 300 million acres in 11 Western states and Alaska, make up some of the nation’s wildest deserts, forests, rivers, mountains, and canyons: places not touted for tourism; places where big mammals and ferocious carnivores roam unhindered; where a citizen with an interest in such things can hike, bike, camp, fish, hunt, raft, ride horseback, carry a pistol, fire a Kalashnikov, sling an arrow, get as lost as a pioneer.

    The marvel of the federal public-lands system is that it exists at all.

    More than 400 million acres of less desirable public land remained, much of it remote and forbidding, with arid soils and grasses fit only for meager grazing, and almost all of it in the states west of Kansas. By 1946, most of this unwanted patrimony-some 264 million acres-fell under control of the newly formed
    Bureau of Land Management, run out of the Department of the Interior.

    the BLM was from the start a creature of local interests. It was formed out of the U.S. Grazing Service, which traditionally had been run at the local and state level by “grazing advisory boards,” which largely consisted of ranchers, bankers, lawyers, real-estate dealers, and mining magnates.

    With this model of decentralized, business-friendly management imported to the BLM-the grazing boards even at one time paid the salaries of BLM employees-the agency’s officers were recruited from the counties they were meant to regulate. Range enforcers tasked to restrict grazing were the sons of ranchers, and watchdogs of mining and drilling had brothers and uncles and cousins who ran oil and gas and hard-rock companies.
    The BLM came to be mocked as the Bureau of Livestock and Mining, and by 1961 President John F. Kennedy would note that “much of this public domain suffers from uncontrolled use and a lack of proper management.” Kennedy that year, in a national address, directed his secretary of the interior to “develop a program of balanced usage designed to reconcile the conflicting uses—grazing, forestry, recreation, wildlife, urban development, and minerals.”

    Bruce Babbitt, the governor of Arizona who would later become Bill Clinton’s secretary of the interior, concluded that “behind the mask the Sagebrush crowd is really nothing but a special-interest group whose real goal is to get public lands into private ownership.”
    Land-grabbing, Babbitt said, was “the oldest con game in the West.”

    “There is pressure to not regulate, to not do your job,” Dennis Willis, a retired BLM range conservationist and recreation manager who worked for the agency for 34 years, told me when I met him at his home in Price, a hundred miles west of the Book Cliffs-East Tavaputs. He wanted to show me the result of the lack of regulation on bureau land around Price. We drove in his truck out of town and up a winding road onto a sun-crushed expanse of pygmy pines and sagebrush scrub known as Wood Hill. We stopped at a well, one of dozens in a complex on BLM land leased to the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, a $52 billion Texas-based energy company with operations on five continents. His long beard and hair whipping about in the desert wind, Willis brandished a Bic lighter and joked that I should spark the flint to see if the site was leaking natural gas. The explosion, he said, would send us and the wellhead to hell and back.

    When I called up retired BLM archaeologist Blaine Miller, who worked in the Price office as a specialist in Native American rock art, he told me that he had been punished for opposing energy development in the Price area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda, there have been studies done on air pollution from coal mining causing asthma and black lung disease, and mountain top removal causing miscarriages and of course the destruction of streams and whole ecosystems.

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      • I can relate to the pollution from coal mining – my father-in-law worked in the PA mines starting when he was 13 years old! He went on to work in Baltimore at the shipyards as an electrician. He retired early on disability – and died finally from black lung. There is no doubt in my mind what any of this air pollution does to our air, water & ground! And yet we MUST have MORE because its there (coal, gas, oil, gold, copper etc).

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  2. BLM is allowing fracking now on our public lands too. One well uses millions of gallons of water mixed with chemicals such as methane, butane, etc. which contaminate aquifers, other groundwater and land, water and air when the pipelines leak or blow up. This is all just one disaster after another and is a desecration of God ‘s creation and an insult to Him.

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    • Only see a few trees and this is supposed to be a national forest. Not only do cattle destroy riparian areas and pollute the water with E. coli but they kill trees and cause erosion. Then the USFS allows clear-cutting too and wants to get rid of what few wild horses there are.

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  3. Forgetting the horses for a moment with what water does BLM plan on using? Does everyone in Washington think we’re just floating on an ocean out here? I can tell you were not! I haven’t watered my garden in a freaking year! As gross as it sounds I get one maybe two showers a week. I simply refuse to use water that firefighters need to fight a bad fire–as has been shown in the past two weeks. I don’t conserve so BLM can divert my unused share to some pet project. I do loads of dishes when I have a full load. For a family of one that means I do a load a week on average. I only wash full loads of wash.

    Frankly it irks me that others just blithely waste such a valuable precious resource. One that currently is irreplaceable. If we drink all available water dry that’s in our reservoirs…how is that going to replenished is we suffer another dry winter? It’s beyond STOOPID to even think that with a bountiful winter we’ll somehow get past 5 dry winters in one winter.

    Two perfect examples of waste users…Tom Selleck (yeah that Tom on TV)has been seen loading up big water trucks at fire hydrants. He uses that water on his orchards. No conservation for him! Only the little people conserve!

    And Nestles (yeah that Nestles…the chocolate people)has been bottling water in CA for over 25 years without a permit! Once caught they were like sorry…well we’ll just apply for the permit.

    So now another government agency wants to waste water. HELL FREAKING NO!

    Like

  4. Great article and comments ,Thank You ALL .. In my view the reality is , as the actions of the “powers that be ” have demonstrated, NONE of these Concerns and FACTS makes any difference to them.
    And apparently the “powers that be ” are not satisfied with the multiply ways and means in which we are controlled ..A new “executive order” issued on Tuesday (9-15-2015) directs federal agencies (funded with American’s tax dollars) to conduct behavioral experiments on US citizens as a means of advancing “government initiatives.” WND put it simply, “Federal agencies have been directed to hire psychologists to experiment and find ways to better manipulate the American people to the federal government’s will.”
    courtesy: Rick Wells report@
    http://rickwells.us/new-obama-executive-order-requires-feds-to-engage-in-mind-control-and-mind-control-research/

    Like

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