National Mining Association (NMA) Senior Vice President and General Counsel Katie Sweeney told a Senate panel that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) withdrawal of more than 10 million acres of mineral-rich federal land from mining activity under the guise of sage grouse conservation “will cause serious hardship to the nation’s economic and mineral security,” while doing nothing to combat proven threats to the sage grouse.
In testimony before the Senate Public Lands, Forests and Mining subcommittee, Sweeney explained that the massive withdrawal, the largest in the history of BLM, contradicts the government’s own findings that identify the primary threats to the sage grouse come not from mining but from wildfire and the loss of native habitat to native species and conifer encroachment. In fact, said Sweeney, the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that habitat loss due to mining is minor, accounting for about 3.6 percent, and can be mitigated with appropriate project-specific conservation measures.
The withdrawal will come with few measurable benefits for sage grouse, but the economic repercussions of removing 10 million acres from new mining claims will be potentially severe. BLM must consider the impact of the withdrawal on the larger economy. “Mining provides for nearly two million high-wage jobs, generates $46 billion annually in taxes and provides key minerals to industries – from laptops and cars, to infrastructure and life-saving medical devices – that comprise 14 percent of U.S. GDP,” she said.
Even though 12 western states with vast BLM holdings account for 75 percent of our nation’s mineral production, the agency never quantified the number of existing mining claims in the area it recommended for withdrawal. Using BLM’s database and maps of the proposed withdrawal area, Sweeney identified nearly 6,000 existing mining claims throughout impacted states — Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.
NMA’s analysis of agency land use planning data further calls into question the purpose of this massive withdrawal from mining operations. “In no state did existing mining claims impact more than three percent of the withdrawal area and, in total, effected only about one percent of the 10 million acres,” said Sweeney. Equally questionable, she said, is the agency’s decision to depart from the multiple-use and sustained yield mandate enshrined in its organic act. Among the goals of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, Sweeney noted, is the requirement to manage public lands in a manner that ‘recognizes the nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals.
“The proposed withdrawal is simply bad public policy that comes with a dangerously high price tag,” said Sweeney.