ENVIRONMENTAL COALITION PRESS RELEASE
COMMENTS IN SUPPORT OF REGULATIONS NEEDED
UPDATE 4/10/03 - REGS PASSED!
For Immediate Release: March 12, 2003
Christie Whiteside, Great Basin Mine Watch, 775-348-1986
Courtney Cuff, National Parks Conservation Association, 510-839-9922 ext 21
Bob Ellis, Desert Survivors, 510-525-8742
CALIFORNIA TO WEIGH OUTLAWING OF ABANDONED OPEN MINE PITS
Proposed Regulations Would Lead the Nation,
Require "Backfilling" of All Open Pit Mines
Hearing in Sacramento on Thursday March 13
On Thursday March 13 the California State Mining and Geology Board will hear testimony from the public regarding the Board's proposed regulations to require mining companies to completely backfill all new open pit metallic mines in the state. The regulations would reform mine reclamation in California and eliminate major environmental hazards associated with open pit gold mining. They would be the toughest in the nation.
Under the proposed regulations, mining companies would be responsible both for backfilling the pits that they excavate, and for providing financial assurances for backfilling to protect the public from bearing the expense.
The regulations are timely because of recent controversy surrounding open pit mining and reclamation. The open-pit Imperial Mine proposed by Glamis Gold Ltd. has come under fire from citizens' groups and the Quechan Indian tribe because it would decimate sacred sites used by the tribe. Additionally, the regulations could affect mines sought by Canyon Resources Briggs Corporation, which operates mines in the Panamint Mountains on the border of Death Valley National Park. CR Briggs is currently seeking to explore for a new open-pit mine on federal lands five miles to the north of the existing Briggs Mine.
The Briggs Mine has been opposed by numerous environmental groups in the area, and by the Timbisha Shoshone tribe. "If a new open-pit mine outside Death Valley National Park were developed, the proposed backfill regulations would require CR Briggs to backfill any new open pits. This is a step in the right direction for California's environment," said Christie Whiteside, of Great Basin Mine Watch, a conservation group concerned with mining throughout the Great Basin, including California desert areas.
Park advocates also support the proposed regulations. "The board has an historic opportunity to right the wrongs of the mining industry, protecting beautiful places from the scars of open pit mining," said Courtney Cuff, of the National Parks Conservation Association.
The advent of cyanide heap-leach technology has made it possible for mining companies to economically exploit lower grade ore deposits than ever before. But along with the economic benefits to the companies, there is a much darker side to this technology. Since the gold ore is of a very low grade, it requires the excavation of huge open pits so that enough gold can be recovered from the rock to make a profit. Often, these open pits extend below the water table, and when mining ceases the pits are no longer pumped out to keep them dry. This leads to the formation of potentially toxic pit lakes, which will never be suitable for recreation, reservoirs or wildlife habitat. Even when the leftover pits do not fill with water, they are left as gaping holes in the landscape, which are useless for recreation and create liability and environmental problems on public lands -- costs that are ultimately borne by taxpayers.
In its draft proposal for the backfill regulations, the State Mining and Geology Board declares that the backfill of open pits is necessary in keeping with the legislative intent of the State Mining and Reclamation Act, which states that mined lands must be returned to a usable condition at the cessation of mining, and that residual hazards to the public health and safety be eliminated.
"These regulations would make California a model for what the rest of the country should be doing to protect land, wildlife, water and people from the damage caused by these huge pits, which are usually just left behind by the mining companies," said Whiteside.
The State Mining and Geology Board will accept public testimony regarding the mandatory backfill regulations on Thursday, March 13, 2003 at 9:00 am. The meeting will be held at the Department of Consumer Affairs at 400 R Street in Sacramento, in the First Floor Hearing Room. Testimony is expected both from those opposed to the proposed regulations, and from those who support the backfill of open pit mines in the state.
The board will also accept written comments until noon April 1, at California State Mining and Geology Board, 801 K St. MS 24-05, Sacramento, CA 95814, email@example.com, fax (916) 445-0738.
Organizations supporting the permanent backfill regulations include:
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA)
Sierra Club California
California Wilderness Coalition
Great Basin Mine Watch
Friends of the Panamints
Center for Biological Diversity
Desert Protective Council