Mining News: First step taken to curb Interior abuses
The Comptroller General’s finding that the Eastern Interior Land Management Plan is a “rule” means that the plan can be set aside
Special to Mining News
Although the Bureau of Land Management has been developing land management plans for decades, in the past those plans have had two qualities that made them tolerable. First, they were relatively easy to live with and second, they were reasonably understandable. There can be no doubt, however, that the earlier plans violated unequivocal prohibitions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act against restrictive land management practices on the public domain.
During the past decade, the noose has tightened around the neck of Alaskans who seek to develop resources on federal land. The number of new federal mining claims versus the number of new state claims is a sad testament against the United States continuing to own up to two-thirds of Alaska.
The discrepancy in new mining locations is not solely attributable to land management practices. The regulatory quagmire that has developed regarding the regulation of mining is also to blame. The offensive against mining is not unique to Alaska, but it still hits Alaska hard.
Far fewer bureaucrats within the BLM have advanced credentials relating to regulating mining than those trained as “planners.” It appears that the planning contingent aspires to ensure that resource development on BLM land is circumscribed and ultimately extinguished.
However, one faint glimmer of hope has emerged. A statute called the Congressional Review Act, long forgotten and rarely used, has been employed to force regulatory agencies to conform to the law. Under the CRA, when an agency promulgates a “rule” purportedly pursuant to its statutory authority, it must submit that rule to Congress which, in turn, may adopt a joint resolution of disapproval. If signed by the President, the rule is overturned.
The Comptroller General of the United States is the arbiter of what constitutes a rule. If an agency does not submit a proposed action to Congress, a member of Congress may request the Comp-Gen’s advice as to whether it should have done so.
This is what has happened in the case of the BLM’s Eastern Interior Land Management Plan. BLM determined that the plan was not a rule, so U. S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski , R-Alaska, requested the Comp-Gen to determine whether it should have been submitted to Congress. On Nov. 15, the Comp-Gen opined that the plan was subject to the CRA. It now remains for the delegation to initiate appropriate resolutions in each house of Congress to disapprove of the plan.
The plan ought to be disapproved for several reasons; first it violates ANILCA by imposing restrictive management burdens on enormous tracts of federal land. We were clearly promised in ANILCA that there would be no more such restrictions; nonetheless, BLM has blatantly disregarded this statutory mandate.
Second, the magnitude of the plan is a major reason to be concerned. It affects four separate planning areas: The White Mountains Planning Area (over 1 million acres); the Steese Planning Area (about 1.3 million acres); the Fortymile Planning Area (nearly 1.9 million acres) and the Draanjik Planning Area (about 2.4 million acres) – in the aggregate over 2.5 percent of the federal land in the state.
Of that land, only 4,000 acres in the White Mountains are recommended for being opened to mineral leasing, while 98 percent of the Steese Planning area would remain closed to mineral leasing and location, 40 percent of the Fortymile area would remain closed and 77 percent of the Draanjik would continue to be closed.
A third reason for disapproving BLM’s plan is that it is a monument to abuse of the land management process. To be sure, the planning process was ostensibly “transparent” inasmuch as a variety of stakeholders including the Alaska Miners Association had the opportunity to comment; but the magnitude of the plan, including the environmental impact statement and the numerous appendices was a mammoth pill to swallow – far too voluminous for the average prospector or placer miner to deal with.
It is encouraging that this is the second time in recent weeks the Comp-Gen has concluded a land management plan to be a CRA rule. In October, he also issued an opinion that the Draconian 2016 Amendment to the Tongass National Forest Land and Resources Management Plan was also a rule. Resolutions of disapproval are currently pending in Congress.
Finally, the position of the U. S. Department of the Interior regarding BLM’s plan is not clear. When the Comp-Gen requested Interior’s views on the plan, the department could not respond due to the lack of a “more complete leadership team.” In other words, defending the BLM’s recommendation was not an Interior priority.
We can only hope that the Alaska delegation to Congress will promptly turn its attention to causing a joint resolution disapproving the plan to be forwarded to President Trump and that he will sign it into law. Readers of this column should consider recommending this to the Alaska delegation and get friends and neighbors to do so as well. We have a golden opportunity to quash this obnoxious land management plan.