November 30, 2013

Follow Route 66 for novel kicks

Needles is considered the gateway city to California on Route 66. Old Trails Arch Bridge across the Colorado River connects California with Arizona at Topock. (Pirate Cove Resort)

Written by Kathy Strong
Special to The Desert Sun

The famous 1946 song that invites you to “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” praised the trip along the historic “Mother Road” that led drivers to more than just road-side discovery. Route 66 chronicles a time when heading west stood for finding new opportunities while enjoying the diverse scenery that unfolded along the way.

The 2,400-mile Route 66, also coined America’s Highway, runs from the Midwest to Los Angeles, but desert residents can get a fascinating look at an important portion of the highway (with just a few detours) beginning in Needles and ending in Ontario and Upland. Not unlike travelers 60 years ago, the easy road trip is filled with new discoveries each day, from geological wonders to funky roadside cafes and landmarks with a bounty of California history dedicated to the traveling freedom revolutionized by the car.

Gateway city

A three-hour trip through the upper desert leads to Needles on the Colorado River. Needles, referred to as the gateway to California on Route 66, is one of the oldest cities in California and was named after the spiky rock outcroppings directly across the river in Arizona. A railroad town since 1883, the city continues to play an important role in the railroad trade.

Pirate Cove Resort & Marina is a surprising 1,000-acre oasis that straddles the river and the Mother Road and makes a great jumping off point for exploring the historic roadway. An RV park is popular here, but new two-story condos with kitchens make for an ideal weekday stay if you want to avoid a livelier weekend crowd. The resort hosts a popular restaurant and bar, hiking/nature trails, a zip line over the water and river recreation. Plan to take the resort’s two-and-a-half hour river cruise to the Topock Gorge, a mini-Grand Canyon, petroglyphs and the Old Trails Arch Bridge that was featured in the famous Great Depression-era movie, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Along the way, you may be lucky enough to spot Bighorns, wild donkeys and Bald Eagles.

Craters and chicken

Although once a major stop for weary travelers along Route 66, 1858-founded Amboy met its inevitable decline with the construction of Interstate 40. The town has a handful of surviving buildings today. Among those the much photographed, retro-designed Roy’s Motel and Cafe — once a service station, then café and motel owned by the town’s original owner and family until its eventual foreclosure. In 2005, the property and town was purchased by Albert Okura of Juan Pollo restaurant fame who has promised to preserve the town and re-open Roy’s.

Just west of Amboy are two extinct volcanoes, the Pisgah Crater and the Amboy Crater, a 6,000-year-old cinder cone. Standing on the Amboy Crater observation deck, take in the 27 square feet of lava flow, a geological wonder in the middle of the desert, and try to imagine the spectacular fiery eruptions that occurred some 80,000 years ago.

Milkshakes at the Bagdad

Continuing west on Route 66 toward Barstow, you’ll pass by the 1940’s mining town of Ludlow. Once a welcoming stop for passing motorists with a motor court, café and gas station, the original Ludlow is a ghost town today, thanks to the advent of Interstate 40 in the late 1960s. A newer Ludlow just north of the off-ramp of Interstate 40 reemerged in the 1970s to serve the traveler once again with gas stations, a small motel and restaurant.

In Newberry Springs, at the foot of the mountains on the south side of Route 66, you will find another landmark of the roadway — the Bagdad Café. Mention the name to French tourists, who come by the busload, and they will tell you about its cinematic cult allure. Formally known as the Sidewinder Café, the tiny café gained international fame when the movie “The Bagdad Café” was filmed there. Its flamboyant owner, Andrea Pruett, holds court and is a celebrity in her own right. Stop for the souvenirs, a chat with Andrea and a tempting handmade milk shake.

Next week, read part two of the Route 66 journey that promises museums dedicated to the roadway, historic murals, a bottle ranch and one of the country’s most unique motels along the famous motorway.

November 24, 2013

Clark County officials lament spending $15.7 million on desert tortoises

A desert tortoise tries to escape from a container at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas in this 2012 file photo. Under a state regulation set to take effect next week, pet tortoise owners will be allowed to keep one of the animals at a time.


The desert tortoise isn’t slow in going through money.

Clark County has spent at least $15.7 million since 2001 on efforts to protect the tortoise, which is listed as a threatened species by the federal government. Those efforts run the gamut from fencing to habitat restoration to sampling efforts to gauge the population.

County officials don’t have anything personal against the tortoise. But they also point to estimates that show some 50,000 desert tortoises are kept as pets in Clark County alone and openly question if the creature is as threatened as the federal government maintains.

“We’ve got people that are starving and such massive needs that we can’t keep pouring money into this,” commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said.

The broader issue of spending on the desert tortoise arose last week at the commission meeting during a routine approval of a $125,250 contract amendment with NewFields Companies for work in sampling the tortoise population at Boulder City Conservation Easement, an 86,423-acre area south of Boulder City.

Commissioners made it clear that they want to take a closer look in the near future at its multi-species habitat conservation plan, which was put in place in 2000. Under that plan, some $95 million has been spent on 78 species of protected plants and animals, including the tortoise. That figure includes the money spent on the tortoise.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveys of 11,200 square miles of tortoise habitat across the four-state range provide an estimate of 95,000 adult tortoises.

By using that figure as a basis for estimating the desert tortoise population of all the range’s habitat, the result is fewer than 295,000 adult tortoises across 25,900 square miles.

In Nevada, as many as 91,000 adult tortoises are estimated to be living in some 8,100 square miles of habitat, according to federal figures.

The desert tortoise was listed as threatened in 1989, forcing the county to come up with a way to allow future develpment while complying with federal requirements to protect the species.

In 2000, the county adopted a multi-species habitat conservation plan, which it administers for all local municipalities. That plan carries out measures to compensate for the loss of habitat, such as restoration and monitoring of species, including the tortoise.

Under the plan, developers pay a $550 per acre fee, which goes to the county’s Desert Conservation Program, said Marci Henson, assistant director of comprehensive planning for the county.

Henson said the plan has helped streamline the environmental permitting process for private property owners, saving an estimated $300 million since the program began.

Tortoises live in blackbrush and Mojave desert shrub. They have brown shells that can grow longer than 14 inches long. They spend much of their time in burrows, venturing out to eat wildflowers and other plants.

They also live a long time — more than 50 years in some cases.

So the federal government will be spending years watching the current generation of tortoises across southeastern California, Southern Nevada and parts of Utah and Arizona.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began its monitoring efforts in 2001. It will take 25 years, until 2026, to gain enough data from a generation of tortoises to see the full scope of changes brought about by efforts to aid the animal’s population.

As a result, officials will have to wait years to see the results.

“They have to survive 20 years before they even start producing babies,” said Roy Averill-Murray, desert tortoise recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They’re not like rabbits.”

That effort includes looking at the overall long-term patterns and changes in the tortoise population, not just the current raw numbers.

Federal officials also say that pet tortoises aren’t part of the equation for classifying wild tortoises as threatened, as the pets can introduce diseases and genetic impurities if set loose.

The work on the deal approved last week involves sending teams out to look for tortoises and accompanying signs of the creatures and where they live. That entails looking for scat, bone fragments and burrows, said Ken MacDonald, a partner and senior environmental manager at Newfields.

Commissioner Susan Brager said at the meeting that there are more important things to spend much-needed funding on, such as helping young people succeed.

“We spend millions on certain animals and our youth do not get all the help they need,” Brager said.

In the end, it would be nice to spend the money on other things, Sisolak said.

As for the tortoises, they’ll still be counted in Clark County.

“They've survived on their own for centuries,” Sisolak said.

November 20, 2013

Off-roaders would lose land to Marines in Senate bill

Johnson Valley
By Courtney Vaughn
Hi-Desert Star

JOHNSON VALLEY — A bill in the U.S. Senate is helping to push along the Navy’s request to expand military training grounds into Johnson Valley and Wonder Valley.

Last week, the Military Land Withdrawals Act cleared the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The legislation now heads to the Senate before it goes to the House of Representatives.

The bill would allow the military to use public lands in Johnson Valley and Wonder Valley, as well as land in Imperial and Riverside counties and Montana for military training exercises.

Military: Land is needed for training

As proposed, the bill would set aside 154,663 acres of land in San Bernardino County for training. That includes a 36,755-acre shared-use area between the military and public in Johnson Valley.

It would also give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to close public lands when deemed necessary for military or public safety or national security.

The Department of the Navy and local Marine Corps representatives have repeatedly said the extra land is necessary to conduct training exercises that can’t be done at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center as it exists today.

“The training conducted would be tailored to suit a Marine Expeditionary Brigade-level unit, comprised of about 15,000 Marines,” Capt. Justin Smith, public affairs officer at the combat center, said via email. “Essentially, the training would be customized to ensure components of the unit would begin at different locations, spread apart by distance and terrain, with the purpose being to merge upon a single objective. The benefits of having a base that will allow for this type of training are unprecedented.”

Smith said having the extra land would allow Marines to train as they fight, rather than relying on classroom instruction and simulations.

Smith said the land chosen wasn’t the Navy’s preferred alternative, but it was carved out in response to public feedback.

Locally, the base expansion would bar public access to more than half of the area currently designated for off-road-vehicle use in Johnson Valley. As a compromise, the Navy designated a shared-use area, which allows for training exercises two months out of the year and gives the Secretary of the Navy management authority over the area during that those times. The Secretary of Interior would manage the shared lands for the rest of the year.

Earlier this year, Congressman Paul Cook suggested an alternative strategy for the base expansion. His recommended alternatives weren’t included in the Senate bill, which could become part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“If that should happen, the House version of the NDAA contains Congressman Cook’s wording to protect Johnson Valley, and it will contradict the Senate’s version, which will contain the Marines’ request for Johnson Valley,” Dawn Rowe, a representative with Cook’s office, stated via email.

“If these two bills contain language that conflicts with each other, both houses of Congress must convene a conference committee to resolve the conflict.”

Under the Senate bill, an Exclusive Military Use Area would be created within the Morongo Basin, divided into four areas: about 103,000 acres to the west of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center; another 21,000 acres south of MCAGCC; and two other areas, each about 300 square meters, inside the boundaries of the shared-use area.

The Department of the Navy would have access to the public lands for combined-arms live fire and maneuver training.

‘How much worse is it going to be?’

The military proposal has been met by heavy resistance within the Basin. Off-road-vehicle enthusiasts say the move infringes on public lands in Johnson Valley that are vital to recreation.

Johnson Valley is the nation’s largest ORV recreation area.

Residents in Johnson Valley fear noise during training periods and loss of revenue from the ORV community.

“I can sit here in my living room and I’m literally looking at where they’re gonna be training,” Betty Munson, a longtime Johnson Valley resident and vice president of the Homestead Valley Community Council, said Tuesday.

Munson characterized the land swap as “another disaster” for her community and the ORV recreation areas.

She said she and her distant neighbors already hear and feel the vibrations of ordnance training in Twentynine Palms, which rattle the house and scare her animals.

“How much worse is it going to be?” she said Tuesday, sighing at the thought of her future in the homestead cabin her family owns.

“It never occurred to us that something would happen to the Johnson Valley recreation area because as far as we were concerned, it had been set aside for ORV use,” Munson said. “We’ve been shut out of every other part of California.”

She said what’s most disturbing to her is that the Senate bill has been called “non-controversial” by legislators, yet more than 40,000 public comments were logged in the plan’s Environmental Impact Report.

November 17, 2013

Developing a Fax Machine to Copy Life on Mars

In a dry run for a mission to Mars, Synthetic Genomics was looking to find microbial life in the Mojave Desert, sequence its DNA and transmit it to the company’s headquarters in San Diego.

New York Times

MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE, Calif. — J. Craig Venter, the maverick scientist, is looking for a new world to conquer — Mars. He wants to detect life on Mars and bring it to Earth using a device called a digital biological converter, or biological teleporter.

Although the idea conjures up “Star Trek,” the analogy is not exact. The transporter on that program actually moves Captain Kirk from one location to another. Dr. Venter’s machine would merely create a copy of an organism from a distant location — more like a biological fax machine.

Still, Dr. Venter, known for his early sequencing of the human genome and for his bold proclamations, predicts the biological converter will be his next innovation and will be useful on Earth well before it could ever be deployed on the red planet.

The idea behind it, not original to him, is that the genetic code that governs life can be stored in a computer and transmitted just like any other information.

Dr. Venter’s system would determine the sequence of the DNA units in an organism’s genome and transmit that information electronically. At the distant location, the genome would be synthesized — or chemically recreated — inserted into what amounts to a blank cell, and “booted up,” as Mr. Venter puts it. In other words, the inserted DNA would take command of the cell and recreate a copy of the original organism.

To test some ideas, he and a small team of scientists from his company and from NASA spent the weekend here in the Mojave Desert, the closest stand-in they could find for the dry surface of Mars.

The biological fax is not as far-fetched as it seems. DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis are rapidly becoming faster and cheaper. For now, however, synthesizing an organism’s entire genome is still generally too difficult. So the system will first be used to remotely clone individual genes, or perhaps viruses. Single-celled organisms like bacteria might come later. More complex creatures, earthly or Martian, will probably never be possible.

Dr. Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics, and his namesake nonprofit research institute have already used the technology to help develop an experimental vaccine for the H7N9 bird flu with the drug maker Novartis.

Typically, when a new strain of flu virus appears, scientists must transport it to labs, which can spend weeks perfecting a strain that can be grown in eggs or animal cells to make vaccine.

But when H7N9 appeared in China in February, its genome was sequenced by scientists there and made publicly available. Within days, Dr. Venter’s team had synthesized the two main genes and used them to make a vaccine strain, without having to wait for the virus to arrive from China.

Dr. Venter said Synthetic Genomics would start selling a machine next year that would automate the synthesis of genes by stringing small pieces of DNA together to make larger ones.

Eventually, he said, “we’ll have a small box like a printer attached to your computer.” A person with a bacterial infection might be sent the code to recreate a virus intended to kill that specific bacterium.

“We can send an antibiotic as an email,” said Dr. Venter, who has outlined his ideas in a new book, “Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life.” Proteins might also be made, so that diabetics, for instance, could “download insulin from the Internet.”

Dr. Venter, 67, has many scientific achievements — though critics deride some of them as stunts — but has had less success converting his ideas into successful businesses.

A previous company, Celera Genomics, raced the federally funded Human Genome Project to determine the complete DNA sequence in human chromosomes. The race was declared a tie in 2000, but Celera could not sustain a business selling the genomic information.

A deal worth up to $600 million that Synthetic Genomics made with Exxon Mobil in 2009 to produce biofuels using algae has been scaled back to a research project.

In 2010, Dr. Venter made headlines by creating what some considered the first man-made life. His team synthesized the genome of one species of bacterium and transplanted it into a slightly different species. The transplanted DNA took command of its new host cell, which then multiplied, passing on the synthetic genome.

Critics said Dr. Venter had not really created life, just copied it. Dr. Venter said in the interview that while he did not create life from scratch, he had created a new type of life.

“DNA is the software of life, and to get new life, you just have to change the software,” he said.

Dr. Venter said his team was designing a genome that was not a copy of an existing one and trying to insert it into a host cell. “It’s not alive yet,” he said. “We’re close.”

George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said there was nothing unique about Dr. Venter’s work so far because others had already synthesized viruses based on DNA sequence information available on the Internet.

“Most people in the past didn't call it teleportation,” he said, “but if you want to, fine.”

He also questioned the utility of doing genome engineering to make a copy of something, rather than “doing genome engineering to make something new and exotic and potentially useful.”

Space exploration is one area where the teleporter might be especially useful. It would be extremely costly and time-consuming to send a medicine physically to a colonist on another planet who becomes sick. And it would be difficult to send a sample from Mars back to Earth.

That is why Dr. Venter’s team was camped here this weekend, about 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The mission was to find microbial life in the desert, determine its sequence and transmit it to Synthetic Genomics’ headquarters in San Diego.

This dry run was far from the automated process that would be needed on Mars. Two scientists spent hours Friday in a bus filled with laboratory equipment, carefully scraping green microbes off rocks and preparing their DNA for sampling. The sequencing, done on a desktop machine in the bus, took 26 hours.

Chris McKay, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center who is working on the project, said the bus would have to be shrunk to a shoe box to make it feasible for a Mars mission, which would take many years and dollars. “By the time we get to Mars, we will have spent $500 million on that shoe box,” he said.

But sequencing machines are rapidly becoming smaller. A team at Harvard and M.I.T. is hoping to have a sequencer ready for use in a Mars mission departing in 2020.

Of course, all this assumes there is life on Mars to begin with and that it is based on DNA.

But that can be left for another day. Dr. Venter is known for combining business with pleasure, such as when he sailed his yacht around the world to collect ocean life for sequencing. He arrived here Friday in a pickup truck hauling three motorcycles and some libations.

After touring a site on Friday from which his scientists had collected rocks on which green cyanobacteria were growing, Dr. Venter declared: “We’ve had the quartz. Now, let’s get a pint.”

Beam us up, Craig!

November 16, 2013

Arizona tortoise habitat tripling in size

Sandra Lackey (left), President of the AWC Science Club, and George Arnett work on footings for the new tortoise habitat at the college during Friday's volunteer day. (Loaned Photo/AWC)

Yuma Sun

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the desert tortoise shelter at Arizona Western College will not only get remodeled and improved, but it is expected to almost triple in size.

Science Club students from AWC and Northern Arizona University met Friday and Saturday with staff and members of the community to begin work on the shelter, which is part of a Habitat Improvement Project for the Science, Technology, and Engineering Reptiles Shelter (HISPTERS).

Located at the gravel courtyard between the AS (Agriculture and Science) building and the SR (NAU Research and Education) building at AWC, 2020 S. Avenue 8E, the project is hoped to be completed by spring, said Kevin Young, professor of science.

The existing male and female pens on campus hold a total of five tortoises and there is also another “sick pen” that currently has one tortoise in it near the CTE (Center for Teaching Effectiveness) building. Young said that they work with Arizona Game and Fish to hold tortoises, which have a lifespan of about 70 to 80 years, who are awaiting adoption.

Young explained that the walls of the enclosure will be built using the unique “super adobe” method which is not only sustainable, but more economically feasible. They will use layers of long tubes filled with a mixture of compacted sand and clay for the walls that will be plastered over to create curvy walls. He said that he got the idea when reading about the methods of architect Nader Khalili who originally presented the concept to NASA for building habitats on the moon and Mars.

“I wanted to highlight this building technique because it’s being used as a building technique for homes and larger structures, mostly in Third World countries, but it has a very low environmental impact, low cost of materials, and it’s earthquake resistant and tornado resistant and fire resistant – you end up with a very strong structure.”

When the project is completed, Young explained that they hope to have also included a shaded space, a water feature, walkways and educational displays for visitors. There are also plans to have tortoise-friendly plants and flowers in the pens while surrounding the shelter with native plants that will attract a wide variety of birds, insects and other wildlife.

“It’s meant to be a community place,” he said. “We’re trying to build something that will be lasting and aesthetically pleasing.”

While college students from environmental and biology classes will be involved in the planning and implementation of the project and taking care of it during holidays and breaks, Young said that they plan to have involvement from other areas of the campus as well. He said that they will be allowing art students to use the 150-foot long walls of the enclosure as a canvas and also asking English students to help them with writing educational displays. In all, he said he’s hoping to have at least 50 students involved in the project along with staff and community volunteers.

Young can be contacted directly for those interested in volunteering to help with the project or donate cuttings or seeds of native plants.

“Anything native to the Sonoran Desert or really Arizona in general, we’d be happy to incorporate it,” he said.

November 15, 2013

A railroad dinosaur is coming back to life

Steam engine No. 4014, nicknamed Big Boy, was retired in 1959 but is being moved from Pomona to be restored as a traveling museum

Union Pacific crews are laying 4,500 feet of temporary track so Big Boy No. 4014 can cross the Pomona Fairplex parking lot and reach a nearby Metrolink line. (Los Angeles Times)
By Bob Pool
Los Angeles Times

See video

It's been sitting around in Pomona for nearly 53 years, but now the beast they call Big Boy is making tracks for Wyoming.

Officially known as Union Pacific steam engine No. 4014, the locomotive has been parked at the RailGiants Train Museum in Pomona since 1962, a displaced piece of the past.

Now Union Pacific has reacquired the behemoth and has begun inching Big Boy No. 4014 toward mainline rail tracks that will take it to Cheyenne, where it will be rebuilt and begin life afresh as a rolling museum on steel wheels.

"It's been sitting here in sort of a railroad Jurassic Park," said Ed Dickens, senior manager of Union Pacific's Heritage Operations. "We're bring T. rex back to life."

Big Boy was built in 1941, one of 25 huge steam engines used to pull 3,600-ton freight trains over the Wasatch Mountains between Ogden, Utah, and Green River, Wyo. After traveling more than 1 million miles, it was retired in 1959, when diesel engines replaced steam. Eventually, Big Boy was handed over to the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society's Southern California chapter, which oversees the RailGiants collection.

To get the old locomotive rolling again, Union Pacific crews are laying 4,500 feet of temporary track so it can cross the Fairplex parking lot and reach a nearby Metrolink line. Once it gets to Colton, it will be shuttled onto Union Pacific tracks and start heading east after being converted from burning coal to using fuel oil.

Moving the engine and restoring it are a huge deal in every sense, according to those involved with the project.

To keep the 600-ton locomotive from crushing the asphalt parking lot, workers are placing layers of plywood beneath 40-foot sections of rails and ties. The 2-ton track panels are moved by forklift and truck and leapfrog ahead of Big Boy as it is slowly towed across the lot by a tractor.

At the Metrolink tracks at the northern edge of the fairgrounds, Big Boy will be pulled by a diesel engine that also bears the old steam engine's original 4014 number. A second diesel engine will be hooked behind the steam engine to serve as a brake.

Dickens declined to speculate on what Big Boy's restoration will cost. But he's confident that Union Pacific has experts who will get it running again.

"These engines are our life," Dickens said. "I have the blueprints for this one on my smartphone."

It will take about five years to refurbish Big Boy in what Dickens calls a "frame-up restoration." After that, it will tour the country on his company's 35,000 miles of track, which connects about 7,000 cities.

Those affiliated with the rail historical society's RailGiants Museum say they are sorry to see Big Boy go. But they will still have eight other locomotives and four cars on outdoor display at the Fairplex, said Rob Shatsnider, chairman of the society's Southern California chapter.

"The whole motive of our chapter is railway preservation," Shatsnider said. "Now, the entire country will see him."

Pomona Mayor Elliott Rothman said he also will miss Big Boy. Twenty years ago, he enjoyed bringing his 6-year-old son Jason to the fairgrounds to sound the engine's horn.

Other young rail fans also come to the fairgrounds to watch the locomotive's slow move out of Pomona. High school student Shelly Hunter, 17, has been a member of the locomotive historical society for four years and has come to the Los Angeles County Fair to admire Big Boy for as long as she can remember.

As Big Boy rolls the over the makeshift rails that will take it to a new life, "I'll be keeping close track," Shelly promised.

November 14, 2013

Time to throw the Antiquities Act into the recycling bin of history

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

The Examiner

Two words — national monument — conjure Images of the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty, but probably not the Virgin Islands Coral Reef or the Alibates Flint Quarries near Amarillo, Texas.

Only one of those is not on the list of America’s 103 national monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, which was authorized by Congress in 1910.

Congress has rarely authorized a national monument, although it has the power to do so at any time. Overwhelmingly, a president of the United States has created our national monuments, and did it by merely writing and signing a proclamation – a form of executive order – empowered by the controversial and politicized Antiquities Act of 1906.

Originally spurred by looting of Southwest Indian ruins for artifacts - dubbed “antiquities” by anthropologists - in such places as Colorado's Mesa Verde, Congress empowered the president to protect by proclamation, "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest," on federal lands, and to “reserve” (read “take”) private property for the purpose.

At the time, nobody worried about giving the president power like a Roman emperor, to swiftly proclaim protection for government property (and coveted private property) without waiting for an unconcerned Congress to act.

Today, a lot of Americans fear and loathe that power and that law, because it has become a political weapon to devastate the fossil-fuel industry.

As an example, President Clinton unilaterally proclaimed the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, thereby depriving the energy-using public of an estimated 62 billion tons of clean-burning, low-sulfur coal, five billion barrels of oil, and four trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Clinton's decree also wiped out dozens of tax-base school land tracts of the state of Utah.

Compounding the problem, four agencies manage 101 of the monuments: the National Park Service (79), the Bureau of Land Management (19), the U.S. Forest Service (7) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (7).

Some monuments are co-managed by two agencies, so overlap complicates dealing with them. Two other agencies co-manage one monument each.

The Antiquities Act is a poster child for mission creep, that contagious federal “we-want-more” disease. We have 22 national monuments associated with Native American sites, 28 with historic sites and 57 with nature sites.

Among these sites was added with a 2009 proclamation was the 9,500 square mile, 6.8-mile deep Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, protecting the deepest place in the world’s oceans, with regional headquarters in Hawaii and no tour buses to the trench. Go figure.

National monuments have a nasty habit of developing mission creep once established, especially against public access.

The motorized recreation community is particularly burned by the hikers-only purists who relentlessly push for controls, then road and trail closures, then selective bans, and finally lockouts.

I asked Duane Taylor, director of federal affairs with the Motorcycle Industry Council, about his organization’s experience.

He told me, “Unfortunately, motorized recreation is far too often shut out of national monument areas. The blanket designation of lands as a national monument, along with the almost-certain restrictions that come along with designation, could effectively mean that much of the total economic contribution of recreation to the area will be forfeited,” he said.

That became an issue in Congress this week with a “briefing on benefits of the Antiquities Act to local economies, communities, and national treasures.”

The briefing featured panelists from the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Pew Charitable Trusts, Wilderness Society, Outdoor Industry Association and others.

Panelists cited a study showing that outdoor recreation generated $646 billion in national sales and services in 2011 and supported 6.1 million jobs. I asked Taylor for his response.

“They’re telling only part of the story,” he said. “The same study shows that approximately $257 billion or nearly 40 percent of the total $646 billion in economic contribution comes from motorized recreation.”

The power of the Antiquities Act needs to be throttled. It’s not impossible. Congress has reduced presidential powers under the act twice, first in 1950, requiring congressional consent for any future proclamation or enlargement of national monuments in Wyoming; second, requiring congressional consent in Alaska for proclamations of greater than 5,000 acres.

We may hope that the third time is the charm.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

November 13, 2013

Searchers find body believed to be missing hunter

Greg Monroe of Victorville (KABC)
by Richard Brooks
Riverside Press-Enterprise

The search has ended for a missing hunter in the Mojave Desert where a body believed to be his has been found in a natural water well, according to a family member and sheriff’s officials.

“It was covered in brush. And he fell right into it,” Norco resident Teresa Dalton said Wednesday, Nov. 13, of her father-in-law, 62-year-old Greg Monroe of Victorville.

Sheriff’s officials confirmed the discovery.

“Monroe was located on Nov. 7 deceased,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said in an email.

But efforts to confirm the tentative identification are continuing, emphasized coroner’s spokeswoman Sandy Fatland.

Monroe disappeared after driving into the New York Mountains near the Nevada border on Oct. 28 so he could start deer hunting early the next day, Dalton said. He was reported missing when he failed to return home as planned on Halloween.

His Toyota truck was found at his desert campsite and it appeared that at least most of his food was still there, suggesting that he became lost early in his trip, Dalton said.

The body was found in a 40-foot-deep well that was half filled with water from a natural spring, meaning Monroe would have been about 20 feet underground after the fall, Dalton said.

“There was no way he could get out,” she said.

Sheriff’s helicopter crews helped search teams and Monroe’s family and friends scour the region. Between the two groups, Sixty to 70 people were involved in the search, Dalton estimated.

“It was a good effort,” she said.

November 12, 2013

Bighorn sheep numbers way down

These bighorn sheep were photographed in 2009 on Old Dad Mountain, the same area of the eastern Mojave Desert where a deadly disease has spread among at least two herds. Biologists have started an effort to monitor the health of the elusive animals.

Press Enterprise

Only a fraction of the bighorn sheep typically seen in a Mojave Desert mountain range was spotted during a recent helicopter survey, a sign that a deadly pneumonia outbreak has taken a significant toll on the population, a scientist said Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Crews found no obviously sick animals in many of the other mountain ranges the sheep inhabit in the eastern Mojave. Blood test results will show whether those sheep are carrying the bacteria that causes the disease.

In the hardest-hit area, around Old Dad Mountain and Kelso Peak 15 miles southeast of Baker, the helicopter crew saw 6.4 sheep per hour. Data from the past 18 years show the previous lowest encounter rate there was 8.2 sheep per hour and the average is 14.5, said Deborah Hughson, science adviser for the Mojave National Preserve.

Two animals were accidentally killed during the four-day survey last week, Hughson said.

One ewe, after collaring, became startled and jumped a short distance off a hillside, Hughson said. Her leg broke on landing, and she had to be euthanized.

The second sheep died when a capture net was discharged from the helicopter in windy conditions. The net caught the sheep’s horn and spun her abruptly around; a veterinarian who conducted a field autopsy determined the animal died instantly. It did not have pneumonia.

During the survey, 73 bighorn were fitted with locator collars that will help experts track them — and the disease — for the next four to six years.

In addition to the herd around Old Dad Mountain, which has a population of 200 to 300, the outbreak has affected a second group in the Marble Mountains, 35 miles south.

Hughson said she was surprised that there were no sick sheep beyond a few in the Marble Mountains. Crews also surveyed the Bristol, Clipper, Soda, Providence, Granite, Hackberry and Woods ranges.

“We now are pretty clear the disease is centered in the Old Dad Peak area. There has been a substantial population decline that could be as much as half of the population,” Hughson said.
In that area, crews saw four carcasses and no lambs, she said.

The disease, which can have an incubation period of months, is easily transmitted to bighorn that come in contact with domestic goats and sheep. Authorities do not know how the Mojave herds contracted it, she said.

Healthy looking sheep can carry the bacteria, then suddenly show symptoms and die soon after, Hughson said.

Scientists should have the results of blood and fecal samples and nasal swabs taken in the field by early December, and will know then which animals are infected, Hughson said.

The results will help determine the next step in dealing with the outbreak. Experts may cull sick animals from the herd to stop the disease from spreading or manipulate water sources next summer to keep the infected sheep from interacting with other herds, Hughson said.

The federal and state governments have spent more than $100,000 on the helicopter survey, collars and database, she said. The survey of more than 80,000 acres was a joint operation of the National Park Service, Mojave National Preserve and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

New Desert Protection Act Coming

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

by Sen. Dianne Feinstein

As America’s environmental innovator, California demonstrates that conserving natural resources and developing clean energy sources can coexist.

That is the reason California set the goal of generating 33 percent of its electricity by 2020 from renewable resources such as wind and solar energy. It is also the reason Los Angeles committed to phasing out coal-fired electrical power over the next 12 years.

That kind of forward thinking should extend into other areas, including how we use California’s deserts for energy development.

There is strong support in California to protect pristine desert areas. There is also strong support for the responsible development of renewable energy projects.

I believe those two goals can exist side-by-side by focusing energy development on suitable sites such as military bases and disturbed private land while protecting unspoiled desert landscapes.

The Mojave Desert is home to majestic mountains and spectacular valleys, towering sand dunes and stunning oases, all of which provide habitat for diverse plants and wildlife.

These beautiful vistas are home to remarkable archaeology, beauty and wildlife. One can find some of the last remaining dinosaur tracks, Native American petroglyphs, abundant spring wildflowers and threatened species including the bighorn sheep and the desert tortoise, which can live to be 100 years old.

But the western edge of the Mojave — 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles — is also home to Edwards Air Force Base and other developed lands.

In 2009, I learned the Bureau of Land Management was accepting applications to build solar and wind projects on federal land throughout the Mojave Desert, including pristine lands donated for conservation purposes in the East Mojave. I acted quickly to prevent this type of development, introducing legislation to establish the Mojave Trails National Monument in the eastern Mojave.

But I also obtained federal funding to study the feasibility of generating renewable energy on military installations in California’s deserts in a manner consistent with both environmental protection and the military mission.

The study, conducted by the Department of Defense and released in January 2012, concluded: “Over 7,000 megawatts of solar energy development is technically feasible and financially viable at several Department of Defense installations in the Mojave and Colorado Deserts of California.”

The report found that “Edwards Air Force Base had the highest solar potential of the military installations studied.” Of the 7,164 megawatts of potential solar capacity at military installations in the California deserts, the base accounts for 3,488 megawatts (49 percent) of the total. Of 125,507 economically viable acres for solar photovoltaic ground development, the base contains 92,009 acres (73 percent of the total).

I will soon introduce a new California Desert Protection Act to address the many competing land use demands in the desert, including conservation, recreation and military training. A central piece of the legislation will protect 266,000 acres of land donated or acquired with federal conservation funds by creating the Mojave Trails National Monument.

I have worked with members of the energy industry in the past to develop this legislation in a way that addresses their concerns and look forward to receiving their support for this bill.

It is possible to preserve our natural environment while producing environmentally-friendly energy. The next generation of Californians will thank us for it.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is the author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act.

November 11, 2013

Interior secretary says Obama may bypass Congress on monuments

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she may advise Obama to act alone to create new national monuments if Congress doesn't act.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she may recommend that President Obama act unilaterally to create new national monuments if Congress remains gridlocked. She recently visited some sites in California. (Dan Joling / Associated Press / September 3, 2013)

By Julie Cart
Los Angeles Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she will recommend that President Obama act alone if necessary to create new national monuments and sidestep a gridlocked Congress that has failed to address dozens of public lands bills.

Jewell said the logjam on Capitol Hill has created a conservation backlog, and she warned that the Obama administration would not "hold its breath forever" waiting for lawmakers to act.

"The president will not hesitate," Jewell said in an interview in San Francisco last week. "I can tell you that there are places that are ripe for setting aside, with a tremendous groundswell of public support."

Congress has not added any acreage to the national park or wilderness systems since 2010. Jewell blamed ramped-up rhetoric in Washington for the impasse. She said the appetite for preserving American historic and cultural sites remains high but some officials seek to avoid the appearance of publicly embracing more government protection.

Jewell, who has been on the job scarcely six months, came to California to promote several initiatives and tour a site that could be added to a national monument along the Mendocino coast.

She began with a meet and greet at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. On a bright day with gulls wheeling against a backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge — the velvety green Marin headlands in the distance — Jewell stood in one of the nation's most-visited national parks and made the case for the value of public lands.

Among the public events on Jewell's schedule was a visit to the 1,255-acre Stornetta Public Lands site on the Mendocino County coast, north of Point Arena. Several members of the California congressional delegation have proposed adding the site to the California Coastal National Monument.

It's one of many pending federal bills that would conserve land in California. One bill would expand the boundary of Yosemite National Park, and another would create a national monument in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has proposed sweeping legislation that would add thousands of acres to Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve, protect 74 miles of waterways as wild and scenic rivers, designate 248,000 acres as wilderness and create the Sand to Snow National Monument running from the floor of the Coachella Valley to the peak of Mt. San Gorgonio.

The conservation community has a long list of places that it believes require protection, but activists complain that with sequestration budget cuts on top of congressional reluctance to promote conservation, little is getting done.

"It's been nearly impossible to figure out how to get more funding for conservation work, whether it's just getting money to run agencies or getting full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund," said Kristen Brengel, who lobbies Congress for the National Parks Conservation Assn. "There is almost no hope for the wilderness or monuments bills — they are being held up."

Brengel said Jewell's willingness to recommend that Obama act unilaterally, using powers granted to presidents under the Antiquities Act of 1906, gives hope to conservationists who see the administration as indifferent to environmental issues.

"The take-away is she's kind of teed herself up to make those recommendations to the president," Brengel said. "They are capable of making decisions on conservation. They just haven't made many of them."

The Antiquities Act gives presidents authority to name new monuments — a power generally residing with Congress. Presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelt have used the act to set aside natural wonders, including the Grand Canyon in 1908, which was later named a national park against the wishes of local officials.

But use of the act in recent years has sparked strong protest. Most notably was President Clinton's decision to designate the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah in 1996, putting one of the nation's largest coal reserves off limits to mining.

Utah lawmakers, led by then-Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a Republican, bitterly complained that federal authorities failed to consult with local communities before elevating protections on 1.8 million acres of rugged red-rock canyons. Further antagonizing opponents, Clinton signed the act while sitting at a ceremonial desk placed on the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Clinton used the Antiquities Act more than any other president. Obama has used the law to designate nine new monuments, focusing mainly on historic sites such as the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland and the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Kern County, which is poised to become a National Historic Park.

November 8, 2013

Pappy & Harriet’s owners celebrate decade of success

The entrance at Pappy & Harriet’s (Pappy & Harriet’s)

By Courtney Vaughn
Hi-Desert Star

PIONEERTOWN — In some ways, Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace owners Robyn Celia and Linda Krantz have loud music to thank for their quiet success.

Over the span of a decade, Pappy & Harriet’s has progressed. It’s long been a locally treasured roadside cantina set amid a town built for Western films. The restaurant and bar now carries its weight as the Hi-Desert’s signature Southwest eatery and a renowned country and blues rock venue.

From the outside, the property still looks rustic and unassuming. That’s part of the charm. Even after spending the last 10 years bringing the restaurant and venue to a higher caliber, owners Celia and Krantz have done little to detract from the venue’s authenticity.

As they celebrate their 10-year anniversary of ownership, Krantz and Celia are modest about their accomplishments and vision for the future.

“Our plans are just to keep going. Keep Pappy’s real and down to earth,” Celia said.

When the women purchased the place 10 years ago, it had just been sold. Celia and Krantz, both New York natives, would visit Pioneertown on trips to California and soon made it a staple of their visits.

“We were both a bit disenchanted by our lives in NYC,” Celia recalled. “Linda was in the film business and I was in a band that wasn’t going anywhere. Linda had done a film in Pioneertown in the ’90s and told all of us about this place.”

Celia remembers visiting one year and being disappointed with the place. She and Linda soon found out it had been sold, so they took a leap of faith.

“Back then it was easy to get a loan and we bought the club with credit cards,” Celia said.

Since taking the reins, the owners have elevated the venue’s appeal into a venue for indie rock and alt-country music, dinner, a night out with friends and even weddings.

“I don’t think we ever had big plans. Not failing was all we really thought about,” Celia admitted.

Perhaps it’s the owners’ approach that’s contributed to the venue’s success.

The former owner and half the venue’s namesake, Harriet, who requested her last name not be mentioned, said running the place was always a labor of love. She gave a nod to Celia and Krantz.

“They’re doing a great job; it’s a lot of work,” Harriet said by phone Thursday. “That’s all I ever hoped for Pappy & Harriet’s was to see it continue.”

Celia and Krantz have carried on Harriet and the late Pappy’s legacy, while slowly infusing their personal touches into the place.

Over the years, the desert locale has become more inviting to young adults and big-city urbanites looking for a quirky getaway with Southwest charm.

Photos of Billy Corgan, Shelby Lynne and Thurston Moore — all performers there over the last decade — now hang on the wall above original wood floors and exposed masonry walls.

They’re also expanding on the experience. This year, Krantz and Celia purchased and rehabbed a quaint property just adjacent to the venue, which they dubbed the “Little House.” The place houses tourists, musicians and people who just want a home away from home for the night.

A few years ago, Pappy & Harriet’s was put up for sale to “the right buyer,” as Celia explained back in 2010. The restaurant and bar has since been taken off the market and the owners have no plans to sell right now.

Reflecting on their tenure, the women say the most rewarding fruits of their labor are the people.

“Just seeing how happy people are when they come here,” Celia said. “Seeing all walks of life under one roof having a great time.”

Wind turbines blamed in death of estimated 600,000 bats in 2012

BOULDER, Colo., (UPI) -- Wind turbines killed at least 600,000 -- and possibly as many as 900,000 -- bats in the United States in 2012, researchers say.

Writing in the journal BioScience, the researchers said they used sophisticated statistical techniques to infer the probable number of bat deaths at wind energy facilities from the number of dead bats found at 21 locations.

Bats, which play an important role in the ecosystem as insect-eaters, are killed at wind turbines not only by collisions with moving turbine blades but also by the trauma resulting from sudden changes in air pressure that occur near a fast-moving blade, the study said.

Study author Mark Hayes of the University of Colorado notes that 600,000 is a conservative estimate -- the true number could be 50 percent higher than that -- and some areas of the country might experience much higher bat fatality rates at wind energy facilities than others.

Hayes said the Appalachian Mountains have the highest estimated fatality rates in his analysis.

With bats already under stress because of climate change and disease, in particular white-nose syndrome, the estimate of wind turbine deaths is worrisome, he said -- especially as bat populations grow only very slowly, with most species producing only one young per year.

November 6, 2013

Area 51 declassified: Documents reveal Cold War 'hide-and-seek'

Warning signs tell people to stay away from Area 51. (
Leonard David

Newly declassified documents reveal more detail about past use of the mysterious Nevada test site known as Area 51 and the concern for maintaining secrecy about the work done at the facility.

The recently released papers, which date mostly from the early 1960s into the 1970s, spotlight the U.S. government's desire for tight security at Area 51, also known as Groom Lake. The area was photographed with American reconnaissance assets to better assess what the Soviet Union's spy satellites might be able to discern.

The documents also detail the debate over the possible release of a photograph "inadvertently" taken of the secret facility by NASA astronauts aboard the Skylab space station in 1974. [Flying Saucers to Mind Control: 7 Declassified Military & CIA Secrets]

Stealthy work

More than 60 declassified documents in an Area 51 file were posted on the Internet by the National Security Archive late last month, compiled and edited by archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson. The archive is located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Those of you hoping for information about captured aliens and flying saucers will be disappointed.

A number of documents focus on the quest to develop stealth capability in aircraft. Others report on another type of activity at Area 51 — the exploitation of covertly acquired Soviet MiG fighter jets.

American engineers assessed the design, performance and limitations of MiGs in an attempt to learn their vulnerabilities — knowledge that could come in handy during combat situations.

Spysat overflights

An April 1962 document sourced to the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) outlines the rationale for photographing Area 51 by either a high-flying U-2 spy plane or a then-classified CORONA reconnaissance satellite. The idea was viewed as a means of seeing what the Soviet Union might learn from its own satellite images of the facility.

This would provide "a pretty fair idea of what deductions and conclusions could be made by the Soviets should Sputnik 13 have a reconnaissance capability," explains the memorandum, which was marked "secret." [Gallery: Declassified US Spy Satellite Photos & Designs]

Also part of the plan, the memo states, was having a U-2 image Area 51: "Without advising the photographic interpreters of what the target is, ask them to determine what type of activity is being conducted at the site photographed," the memo states.

Secret facility at Groom Lake taken by the Skylab 4 astronauts. (NASA)
Skylab image

Also of interest is another document, dated April 11, 1974, from the deputy director of the NRO to the chairman of the director of central intelligence's Committee on Imagery Requirements and Exploitation. This memorandum discusses what to do about a photograph taken by Skylab astronauts of Area 51, outlining the issues to be considered in deciding whether or not to release the photograph.

The two-page document, marked "Top Secret," mentions a draft decision paper that focuses on the "relative merits of retaining [deleted in document] as a high-priority secret national security installation versus the merits of the NASA belief that there would be domestic and foreign problems created by withholding the photograph."

The April 1974 memo also says that the Skylab photograph "in the public domain would almost certainly provide strong stimulus for media questioning and the potential near-term revelation of the missions of the installation."

Unclassified platform

A follow-up memorandum from April 19, 1974, marked "Confidential" for then-Director of Central Intelligence William Colby, explains that the recent Skylab mission "inadvertently photographed" Area 51, and that there were "specific instructions not to do this."

The memo also reports that the Skylab photo is the subject of an interagency review and that Department of Defense officials believed it should be withheld from public release.

At the time, NASA — and, to a large extent, the State Department — took the position that the image should be released. It would be allowed to go into a repository in Sioux Falls, S.D., that contained satellite remote sensing data of the Earth's land surface and "let nature take its course," the memo states.

Complex issues

The April 19 memo explains that there are some complicated precedents that should be reviewed before a final decision could be made about the Skylab image. For example, there was a question of whether anything photographed in the U.S. can be classified if the platform from which the image was taken, such as NASA's Skylab, is unclassified.

In addition, the April 19 memo notes that there are some complex issues in the United Nations concerning U.S. policies about imagery from space. Further, the document raises the question of whether or not the photo would be leaked anyway, even if it were withheld.

The memo also carries handwritten responses by the CIA's Colby.

Colby expressed some doubts about the need to protect the image, since the Soviet Union had it from their satellites anyway. He further asked, "If exposed, don't we just say classified USAF [U.S. Air Force] work is done there?"

Hide and seek

Dwayne Day, an American space historian, policy analyst and author, has previously written on Area 51, as well as the 1974 Skylab image flap.

It turns out that the Skylab shot of Area 51 was placed in NASA's collection of Skylab photographs, Day said, but nobody had noticed. So, in the end, NASA won its argument with the intelligence community over the image, he said.

As for playing Cold War hide-and-seek at Area 51 with the Soviet Union, Day said the Soviets had spy satellites and that they could certainly see the airfield.

"But, of course, the CIA knew the flight paths of Soviet satellites, and they would avoid having their aircraft in the open when satellites were overhead," Day told "The best form of concealment is a big hangar where you can park all your planes."

Day said that there has been at least one report of an effort at Groom Lake to create a fake heat signature for orbiting satellites to see.

"I have my doubts about that," Day said. "The timing is wrong — too early for anybody to expect the Soviet Union to be capable of that kind of infrared observation."

Day said he's also wondered about a photograph taken at Area 51 showing a line of A-12 OXCART spy planes, probably from 1964. OXCART was the label given to the CIA's A-12 program, meant to come after the U-2 to perform reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union.

"The Soviets did not always have reconnaissance satellites in orbit," Day said, "so did the CIA line these planes up for a beauty shot when they knew that they were safe from observation? Or, did they simply not care?"

November 2, 2013

H. R. 2467 – A Threat to America’s Economic and National Security

Copper has been mined at Morenci, Arizona for more than 100 years. Under provisions contained in H. R. 2467, mining operations would be required to cease operations and be reclaimed after 40 years, leaving much of the remaining mineral resource in ground.

by David F. Briggs
Tucson Citizen

The most recent attempt to reform the General Mining Act of 1872 was introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives on June 20, 2013.

This is the first in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).


Once again, reform of the General Mining Act of 1872 has been brought to the forefront of public debate with the introduction of the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467) in the House of Representatives on June 20, 2013 by Congressmen Edward Markey, Rush Holt and Raúl Grijalva.

The primary goals of this mining reform legislation include:

1) increasing the taxpayers’ return on investment through the imposition of a 12.5 percent royalty on gross income derived from the production of locatable minerals from federal lands;

2) the establishment of an Abandoned Mine Lands Program, which will be funded through a $0.07/ton of material mined at all hard rock mines; and

3) the reduction of environmental impacts on public lands by the mining industry.

In attempting to accomplish these goals, this bill employs tactics that have proved unsuccessful in the past. The implementation of the first two goals will be accomplished through collection of royalties and fees from domestic hard rock mining operations. However, the methods that will be used to reduce the environmental impacts of mining on our public lands are considerably more complicated and problematic. Reduction of environmental impacts on public lands will be accomplished by:

1) reducing the total acreage of land available for mining activities through an unprecedented and reckless withdrawal of extensive tracts public lands from mineral entry without regard for their mineral potential;

2) placing unrealistic restrictions on how the mining industry is permitted to use the land;

3) imposing restrictive and unrealistic time limits on exploration and mining activities;

4) significantly increasing the costs and risks of exploring, developing and mining locatable minerals on public lands; and

5) requiring the mining industry to comply with a new set of environmental standards that are virtually impossible to meet.

Like many bills before Congress, the authors of this legislation were so focused on designing a bill that will meet their goals, they failed to fully consider the undesirable impacts that would result from the passage of such legislation. When combined with their ignorance of the science, engineering, technologies and business realities of the industry they are trying to regulate, this tunnel-vision makes the negative impacts resulting from the provisions contained within this legislative proposal especially severe.

Tens if not hundreds of thousands of jobs will be directly and indirectly impacted by provisions contained within this bill as our domestic mining industry pre-maturely shutters many of its existing operations and investments used to search for and develop new mines are spent elsewhere. These financial hardships will be especially severe in rural communities, where many mining operations are located. Considering the federal government’s poor track record in coping with the millions of jobs lost during the Great Recession of 2008, how will it deal with those unemployed as a result of this legislation? Furthermore, are the social costs that will accompany these job losses really warranted?

The United States is already very dependent on foreign sources for metals and minerals we require to supply our economic and national security needs. Pre-mature mine closures and disincentives to invest in future mining projects will only further weaken our ability to provide for these needs. In addition, many of the scientific and technological skills our nation requires to remain competitive on the world market and ensure our national security will be eroded as the mining industry relocates many its employment opportunities overseas. Is it really wise to enact legislation, which will only compound these problems?

Our dependence on the importation of foreign oil has been often cited as one of the primary reasons why American troops were sent to fight and die in Iraq on two different occasions since 1990. How will future shortages of minerals and metals critical to our economic and national security needs impact future foreign policy decisions? Will more Americans have to pay with their lives because our leaders have failed to learn the lessons of history?

The purpose of this paper is to closely examine the details of each of the individual provisions contained within H. R. 2467 and discuss the wide range of impacts they will have on the future of the domestic mining industry and our nation, if this legislation is ever enacted into law. Less restrictive alternatives, which can accomplish similar goals without compromising our economic or national security needs, will also be offered.

The second part in this series will discuss mineral development on public lands and how provisions of H. R. 2467 will be applied to pre-existing mining claims.

This is the second in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).

Mineral Development on Public Lands

Under U. S. law, public lands contain three distinct categories of minerals; locatable minerals, leasable minerals and salable minerals. The manner in which the natural resource sector acquires access and title to each is different.

Access and title to locatable minerals on public lands are acquired through the location of a mining claim at a site and making a valid mineral discovery. The list of locatable minerals is long and includes all metallic minerals (gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, molybdenum, iron, manganese etc.), some non-metallic minerals (fluorspar, mica, chemical or metallurgical grade limestone, gypsum, barite, perlite etc.) and certain uncommon varieties of minerals. These are just some of the locatable minerals. A more complete list of locatable minerals is more difficult to prepare, because our laws have used economics, their intended use and/or uniqueness of characteristics to define them.

Leasable minerals were initially defined under provision of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 (30 U.S.C. ¶181). They include energy leasables (oil, gas, oil shale, coal and geothermal) and non-energy leasables (sodium, potassium, potash, trona, phosphate and sulphur). Furthermore, all locatable minerals situated on public lands purchased or received under the Acquired Lands Act of 1947 as well as those found on American Indian Reservations are only subject to lease (43 CFR Group 3500). Access to these minerals is acquired through the issuance of a lease, which has a specified term and requires the lessee to pay a rental fee and royalties on any minerals produced from the lease. Petroleum and natural gas leases are secured through a competitive bidding process, which requires an initial payment to the federal government in addition to the rental fees and royalties.

Saleable minerals include some of our most basic natural resources, such as sand, gravel, stone, pumice, pumicite, cinders and dirt. Commonly used in construction and many other every day uses, these materials are generally bulky and characterized by low unit prices. Their transportation costs are very high, making adequate local supplies of these resources critical to the economic viability of any community. While saleable minerals are generally sold under a contract to the public at a fair market price, they are given to local and state governments for use in public works projects.

H. R. 2467 specifically targets locatable minerals on public lands. However, if this bill is enacted into law, how long will take the federal government to find a way to apply its more onerous provisions dealing with land use and the environment to leasable and saleable minerals?

Application of H. R. 2467 to Pre-existing Mining Claims

All mining, mill site and tunnel sites claims located after the date of the enactment of H. R. 2467 will be subject to all of the provisions contained within this bill. Pre-existing mining claims for which a plan of operation has not been approved or a notice filed prior to the date of its enactment will also be subject to all of its requirements. However, if a plan of operation has been approved, but such operations have not commenced prior to the date of the enactment, these mining operations will have five years to bring its mining activities into compliance with all of the provisions contained within this bill.

Finally, H. R. 2467 is poorly drafted and contains sections that are referred to but absent from the text of this document. This appears to be the case for the application of its provisions to federal lands where existing mining operations are producing locatable minerals in commercial quantities prior to the date of its enactment. The manner in which this bill will deal with this issue is unclear. Attempts to clarify this and other points with the staff of the legislators, who introduced this bill, have been unanswered or met with evasive responses (Bragato, personal communication, 2013).

The third part in this series will discuss how provisions of H. R. 2467 will change the rules and regulations regarding unpatented mining claims.

This is the third in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).

Issues Involving Unpatented Mining Claims

U. S. law (30 USC ¶22) states: “Except as otherwise provided, all valuable mineral deposits in lands belonging to the United States, both surveyed and unsurveyed, shall be free and open to exploration and purchase, and the lands in which they are found to occupation and purchase, by citizens of the United States and those who have declared their intention to become such, under regulations prescribed by law, and according to the local customs or rules of miners in the several mining districts, so far as the same are applicable and not inconsistent with the laws of the United States.”

Under this provision, U. S. law guarantees the right to explore a property, develop its resources, produce those resources and reclaim the site without ever locating a single mining claim. However for practical proposes, most prudent persons locate mining claims at the site in order to protect their rights against rival claimants, protect their rights in the event the federal government withdraws the area from mineral entry at some future date and to acquire a perfected title to the minerals should a valid discovery be made (Skaer, 2007). However, the Code of Federal Regulations (36 CFR ¶228.4 or 43 CFR ¶3809.11a) require mining operators to obtain government approval of a proposed plan for mining operations before mining commences.

Provisions contained in H. R. 2467 would change the current U. S. law, requiring any mineral activities resulting in the disturbance of surface resources on federal lands to require a mining claim located under general mining laws and for said claim to be maintained in compliance with such laws.

U. S. law (30 USC ¶622a) states: “Any mining claim hereafter located under the mining laws of the United States shall not be used, prior to issuance of patent therefore, for any purposes other than prospecting, mining or processing operations and uses reasonably incident thereto.”

H. R. 2467 also attempts to modify both 30 USC ¶22 and 30 USC ¶622a, stating that neither lode or placer claims can be located for the purpose of securing Federal land for a waste rock facility, tailings impoundments or other purposes incident to processing locatable minerals extracted elsewhere. This provision demonstrates a profound ignorance for the realities the mining industry faces in doing its day to day business. If the mining industry is not permitted to obtain adequate physical access to the surface rights of a property to develop and efficiently mine a mineral discovery, any mineral rights it may have received in making a valid discovery are worthless.

When mining companies decide to evaluate an exploration target for its mineral potential, they acquire exclusive rights to an area that is sufficiently large enough to cover the entire target. At this stage, the specifics of what areas will be mined and what will be used to support the mine facilities are unknown. And these specifics will remain uncertain until the area is evaluated, an economic discovery has been made and a plan of operation has been submitted and approved by the appropriate governmental authorities.

This is illustrated by the following example. Discovered during the early 1960s, the Rosemont deposit in Pima County, Arizona has been evaluated over the last five decades. And even today, we still do not know what the final areal configuration of the mine site will be until the U. S. Forest Service releases its Final EIS and Record of Decision.

Under U. S. Code of Federal Regulations (43 CFR Ch 11 ¶3832.32) a mine operator can locate more than one five-acre mill site per mining claim, if each site is used for processing facilities, waste rock and tailings disposal sites, leach pads, water process and treatment plants, mine administrative or support facilities as well as other unspecified ancillary uses that may reasonably be needed to support its operation. The only limitations that are placed on the total acreage used for these activities is what is reasonably necessary for an efficient and reasonably compact mining operation.

However, under a provision contained in H. R. 2467, the current U. S. legal code will be modified, limiting the number of five-acre mill site claims permitted at a particular mining project to the number of valid mining claims located at the site. When combined with the provision that restricts ancillary facilities from being placed on mining claims, this will create impractical restrictions on how much land can be used for waste rock facilities, tailings impoundments, leach pads and other site facilities. Not only will it result in the premature curtailment of mining operations, it will also give the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service considerably more discretionary authority to reject future mining projects, due to a company’s need to use public lands for support facilities. Finally, it ignores other less restrictive ways to reduce the areal footprint of future mining operations through the introduction of new technologies such as dry stack tailings impoundments and concurrent reclamation practices.

Under the terms of H. R. 2467, both placer and lode claims must contain locatable minerals, which the claim holder intends to extract. It also requires that validity of each of these mining claims must be supported by a discovery of a valuable mineral deposit within the meaning of the general mining laws. However, the General Mining Law of 1872 does not define the term “discovery”. For many years, both the Department of Interior and the courts have used the “prudent man” test to judge the validity of a mining claim. Under this method, a discovery had to be of sufficient size and quality that the reasonable probability of successfully developing a mine would be sufficient to encourage an individual of ordinary prudence to invest time and money in this endeavor. Since the early 1980s, both the Department of Interior and the courts have modified the method used to judge the validity of a mining claim with the addition of a “marketability” test. This validity test requires sufficient exploration and evaluation to have been performed on a claim to demonstrate that it could profitably mined under present conditions. This is the type of discovery, which is required for a mineral patent (Papke and Davis, 2002).

A discovery can be made before or after a mining claim has been located. In the early days, discoveries were generally made prior to the location of a mining claim. Today, most of the discoveries are made only after much exploration and analysis of the data, which can take many years and cost tens of millions of dollars. Accordingly, the courts have recognized that claim holders require time to make a valid discovery and have granted them possessory rights to their claims (Union Oil Co. of California vs. Smith, 249 US 537 [1919]). These rights remain in force so long as the claim holder maintains actual physical occupancy of each claim, excludes rival locators, pays an annual claim maintenance fee and continues a diligent effort to make a discovery (Cole vs. Ralph, 252 US 286, 294 [1920] and Geomet Exploration vs. Lucky Mc, AZ 601 P2d 1339 [1979]).

It should be noted that neither of the methods that have been historically used to determine the validity of a mining claim place any limits on the time it takes to prove validity. If a claim holder is unable to prove his claims are valid within the arbitrary ten-year term of the exploration permit required by this proposed legislation, will the federal government declare those claims invalid? If so, this would have a chilling impact on raising the investment capital required to explore and develop mineral deposits within the United States. Where are the minerals we will require in the future for our economic and national security needs going to come from if it is too risky to do so here, in the United States?

The fourth part in this series will discuss how provisions of H. R. 2467 will impact the mining industry’s access to mineral holdings.

This is the fourth in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467)

Secure Access to Mineral Holdings

The Multiple Land Use Doctrine as described in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 ensures that our public lands and their various resource values will be utilized in the combination, which best meets the present and future needs of the American people. It also guarantees that our public lands will be made available for all uses, including a wide range of commercial activities as well as being preserved for its watershed, fish and wildlife, natural scenic, scientific and historical values (Anonymous, 2001).

Many provisions in H. R. 2467 will unnecessarily limit or deny the mining industry access to public lands. If this attempt to restrict Americans’ use of their public lands is successful, would other historic uses of federal lands such as ranching, harvesting timber or even recreational uses be similarly restricted in the future?

Recognizing that economic mineral deposits are rare occurrences located in certain restricted geologically favorable areas and are essential for our economic and national security, current law grants a claim holder pre-discovery rights to explore and develop favorable areas in accordance with a strict set of guidelines, which are designed to mitigate any environmental damage to the land.

Under H. R. 2467, mining becomes a discretionary use of our public lands, where the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture are granted absolute, discretional authority to deny access of public lands during any stage of mining activity, which would otherwise comply with all environmental laws and regulations. In short, it makes what should be a scientific, technical and economic decision with regard to the use of public land, a political decision.

H. R. 2467 allows states, counties, communities and Indian tribes to petition for the withdrawal of public lands from mineral entry in order to protect specific values, such as value of a watershed to supply drinking water, wildlife habitat values, cultural or historic resources or value for scenic vistas important to the local economy or other such values. Indian tribes may also request withdrawals as a way to protect religious or cultural values that are important to the Indian tribe. Despite lacking any criteria on how to judge the merits of these petitions, this bill requires the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to grant such petitions unless it can be shown to be against the national interest. It essentially places mining at the bottom of list of all land use priorities.

These important decisions are not only being made without regard for an area’s mineral potential, but could effectively prevent any examination of an area from being made at all. This clause could be easily used target controversial projects, known to contain undeveloped mineral resources located within historical mining districts (i.e. Mt. Emmons, Rosemont and Hermosa), which have been evaluated by the mining industry over considerable periods of time and at great expense. While any individual occurrence may not be able to be shown to be in the national interest, the cumulative impact of granting all of these petitions on a case by case basis will certainly have a profound negative impact on our economic and national security, because it would jeopardize America’s ability to meet its current and future demands for natural resources. Furthermore, considering that substantial investment has already been made on many of these holdings in reliance of existing laws, it will almost certainly expose the federal government to substantial takings litigation.

This proposed piece of legislation will also withdraw enormous tracts of public domain from mineral development, including wilderness study areas, areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC), Wild and Scenic Rivers systems and roadless areas. Among the ill-defined criteria used to identify proposed withdrawals are “areas of critical environmental concern”, which could potentially construed to mean all public lands.

Furthermore, this legislation requires that no permits to conduct any mining activities will be authorized if it might impair the land or resources of a National Park or National Monument. For purposes of this provision the term impair includes any diminution of the affected land including wildlife, scenic assets, water resources, air quality and acoustic qualities or other unspecified changes that would lessen a citizen’s experience at one of these sites. Similar regulations apply to National Conservation System units, which in addition to National Parks and National Monuments also include: the National Wildlife Refuge System, National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, National Trails System, National Conservation Areas, National Recreational Areas and National Wilderness Preservation System.

These provisions would effectively terminate any claimant’s right to explore and develop pre-existing mining claims located within or adjacent to these sites prior to the enactment of this legislation. It will effectively create enormous mining-free buffer zones of several orders of magnitude greater than the “protected” sites they are designed to protect. All present and future mineral activity will be prohibited from these buffer zones. Furthermore, the areal extent and boundaries of these poorly defined, mining-free, buffer zones are left to the discretionary whims of the Secretary of Interior, which are solely based on political factors. It would simply make it too risky for the mining industry to invest its time and limited capital resources on any of these areas. Finally, these withdrawals are chosen without regard for the mineral potential of these lands or their importance to meeting our nation’s present or future economic or national security needs.

H. R. 2467′s arbitrary term of ten years for an exploration permit ignores the realities faced by today’s mining industry, when exploring and evaluating mineral properties. The geological settings of many deposits are quite complex and require considerable time and expense to adequately assess their economic potential. By its very nature, minerals exploration is a repetitious process in which exploration targets may be examined many times before an economic discovery is made. There are many documented cases where it has required more than fifty years of evaluation, accompanied by advances in technology before a known mineral occurrence could be shown to be economically feasible to mine. Furthermore, arbitrary limitations placed on exploration permits will discourage investing in exploration programs, which will ultimately result in a decline in mineral discoveries that will be required to meet our future demands for a wide variety of mineral products. Finally, an unrealistic and poorly defined definition of what does or does not constitute exploration under provisions of this bill has a potential to severely limit exploration activities conducted on public lands.

Similar arbitrary and unrealistic term limits for operations permits of twenty years with an uncertain possibility of a single, twenty year extension is also problematic, considering many existing mining operations have been in production for more than forty years. Advances in technology as well as variations in metals prices commonly allow mining operations to remain economical much longer than initially projected. Term limits create too much uncertainty to attract the huge amounts of investment capital required to find and develop new mining operations in the United States. Unwise arbitrary restrictions that limit a mining operation’s life to forty years will almost certainly result in premature closures, leaving economical reserves in the ground, where they will be of no benefit to anyone and potentially creating environmental exposure to mineralized material.

Current permitting procedures at our nation’s mines are adequately performed and administered by a number of local, state and federal agencies, who presently have the authority to resolve any issue that might arise. There is no need to add another layer of bureaucracy to an already cumbersome and time-consuming process.

Any true mining reform must recognize that minerals deposits are valuable, non-renewable resources, which must be developed and mined in the most efficient manner possible. Anything that interferes with this process, will ultimately result in much greater impact to the environment, because the demand for the products made from these minerals will push mining industry to develop other less developed properties both inside and outside of the United States to supply this demand. With regard to developing properties located in other countries, environmental damage will likely be greater due to less stringent laws and regulations.

Uncertainties created by H. R. 2467′s provisions involving access to public lands only increase the risks of doing business. Before making these substantial investments, mining companies must know that their rights to evaluate and occupy public lands are secure. Otherwise, the risks are simply too great to attract the investment capital required to find and develop the natural resources necessary to fulfill the needs of present and future generations of Americans. This legislation significantly reduces our ability to supply the minerals we require to ensure our security and to maintain and improve our infrastructure and standard of living. This will result in our increased dependence on foreign sources for raw materials, which will not only increase our nation’s already enormous trade deficits, but will also leave our national security needs vulnerable to decisions made by foreign governments (see Figure 1).

The fifth part in this series will discuss how provisions of H. R. 2467 will deal with the payment of royalties on minerals produced from public lands.

This is the fifth in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).

Equitable Alternatives to Gross Income Royalties

The domestic mining industry commonly pays royalties on production from its operations and would not oppose compensation being made to the federal government for locatable minerals mined from public lands as long as it can be done in a fair and equitable manner.

Under the provisions in H. R. 2467, a 12.5 percent royalty on gross income would be imposed on production of all locatable minerals from federal lands. It is unclear whether this royalty would be levied on production from public lands covered by a pre-existing operations permit, but it would apply to federal lands added through a modification to a pre-existing operations permit that is submitted after the date of enactment of this legislation.

The proposed 12.5 percent royalty on gross income significantly exceeds royalties that have been historically paid by the metals mining industry. Although similar gross income royalties are common for leasable minerals, such as oil, gas and coal, doing the same for locatable minerals, such as copper and gold, would significantly threaten the economic viability of many metals mining projects.

Initial and on-going capital expenditures of metals mining projects are considerably greater than those for other extractive industries. These costs alone can exceed $1 billion at a single mine site. Mining and reclamation costs are also greater than those for leasable minerals. Furthermore, every metals mining project typically requires is own infrastructure, which is specifically designed to treat the ores from that mine site. On- and off-site processing costs required to produce a marketable product from ores, containing a metal content of less than 1.0 percent, are considerably greater than treatment costs for leasable minerals, which only require limited amounts of processing before most of the mined material becomes a marketable product.

In summary, the value of marketable products is used as the basis to calculate gross income royalties. This method fails to accurately reflect the value of the raw minerals contained within the ores prior to treatment.

A more equitable approach to this issue would impose a net smelter return (NSR) royalty or net profits interest (NPI) royalty on locatable minerals produced from federal lands. In its simplest form, NSR royalties represent a small percentage of the proceeds received by a mine operator from the smelter or refinery. The costs of off-site services (transportation, smelting, refining and associated insurance) are deducted from the value of the metals contained within the concentrates and the proceeds “net” of these costs are returned to the mine operator. NSR royalties vary depending on the commodity, but generally average 2 to 3 percent of net smelter returns.

NPI royalties represent a percentage of an operation’s revenues, after deducting all on- and off-site mining and beneficiation costs, including depreciation, depletion and amortization. NPI royalties also vary depending on commodity, but generally range from 5 to 15 percent of net profits. At this point it should be noted that the difference in these royalty rates is due to the lower base value from which NPI royalties are determined, which permits the deduction of all on- and off-site costs. Both methods use the value of raw minerals contained within the ores before treatment as a basis to calculate royalties (Silver and Courtney, 2009).

This proposed legislation is based on the flawed assumption that it will maximize the taxpayer’s return on investment. In realty, this approach will actually produce less total revenues over the long-term for federal coffers than would be received had a royalty structure more in line with those historically used by the mining industry been chosen.

H. R. 2467 ignores the basic economic law of supply and demand, which determines the price of locatable minerals on the world market. Our domestic producers have no control over these commodity prices. The 12.5 percent gross income royalty will significantly impair the U. S. mining industry’s ability to remain competitive on the world market. Maximizing short-term gains with the higher gross income royalty significantly increases the probability a mining project will become unprofitable and makes it particularly vulnerable during periods of low commodities prices. If you remove the mining industry’s incentive to produce locatable minerals at our domestic mines, they will close these facilities. Closed mines or mines that are never developed will generate no revenues for local, state and federal governments. Other indirect economic impacts include the loss of income tax revenues and increased social costs that would result from a significant loss of jobs at shuttered mines as well as at many other companies, which provide goods and services for these mining operations.

If the federal government is truly interested in maximizing the taxpayers’ return on investment, it needs to find ways to encourage and promote the exploration and responsible development of our mineral resources. One way to accomplish this goal is the establishment of a royalty structure, which maximizes returns over the entire life of a mining project. This requires a lower rate, which will enable a mining operation to remain profitable during periods of low commodity prices. Both the NSR or NPI royalty structures optimize the use of our natural resources, allowing both business and government to maximize the benefits received from mining locatable minerals on our public lands.

Other Issues Involving Royalties

In imposing royalties on mining claims, the federal government needs to recognize obligations that have been made to underlying private royalty holders and the impacts this legislation may have on them. It should not negatively impact revenues derived from state mineral and severance taxes, which help compensate states for large tracts of federal lands within their borders that are not subject to taxation. Furthermore, total costs (including state and federal income taxes, sales taxes, other taxes and federal and private royalties) must not be so great as to make it impossible for a mine operator to recover its initial and sustaining capital expenditures as well as its up-front investments for exploration and project development.

Finally, this act requires that any royalties collected under provisions in H. R. 2467 will be deposited in the Treasury and used for federal budget deficit reduction or if there is no federal budget deficit, it will be used to reduce the federal debt (Figure 2). Considering the federal government’s propensity to spend more than it receives, this provision is self-serving and meaningless. For once, let’s be honest with the American people. If the federal government receives these funds, it will most certainly find a way to spend them.

The sixth part in this series will discuss needless regulations imposed by H. R. 2467 and how they will interfere with the mining industry’s ability to produce the minerals we use.

This is the sixth in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).

Needless Regulation, Bureaucratic Interference and Harassment

H. R. 2467 authorizes the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture to establish a new duplicative set of standards and unnecessary public review processes, which are currently performed under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) and by other existing federal, state and local laws and regulations. Current permitting procedures at our nation’s mines are adequately performed and administered by a number of local, state and federal agencies, who presently have the authority to resolve any issue that might arise.

With the permitting process currently averaging seven to ten years and costing tens of million dollars to complete, it has become much more difficult to attract the investment capital required to find and develop the natural resources necessary to fulfill the needs of present and future generations of Americans. We clearly do not need another time consuming and costly layer of bureaucratic red tape that would result in further delays in an already cumbersome permitting process. These delays have reduced our ability to supply the minerals we require to ensure our national security and to maintain and improve our infrastructure and standard of living. Today, less than half of the minerals used by the U. S. manufacturing sector are derived from domestic sources (Quinn, 2012). This dependence on foreign sources for raw materials has not only contributed to America’s large trade deficits, but has also left our national security needs vulnerable to decisions made by foreign governments (Figure 1).

This legislation goes into minute detail on the how the royalties from the mining industry will be collected, safeguards to ensure what is owed to the federal government is paid to the federal government and even the liability of mine operators, who are found to have lost or wasted mineral products derived from a mining claim. This last point on waste is particularly relevant, considering many of the provisions contained within this act will result in the same thing the federal government is attempting to avoid.

This bill will significantly raise the costs of doing business at most mining operations, which will result in them raising the cut-off grades of the ores being mined. By forcing the mining operations to selectively mine the higher grade portions of an ore body than would have been mined otherwise, it will result in this low grade material’s mineral content being left unmined or disposed of in waste rock dumps, where it is of no value to anyone. Furthermore, the low grade of this remaining material will make the economic recovery of its metal content at some future date much more unlikely, especially when you consider this bill’s reclamation requirements, which will effectively sterilize the site for future production.

H. R. 2467 attempts to micro-manage every single aspect of mining activity, ranging from exploration through development, production and reclamation to the extent that every decision made during the course of doing business must be approved by the Department of Interior or Department of Agriculture. Not only do these agencies lack the resources to perform this function, they also do not have the experience or expertise to make such decisions. The intent of this proposed legislation is to impair and harass an industry, which has worked very hard to comply with local, state and federal laws.

In this regard, our leaders are making the same types of mistakes that culminated in the natural gas crisis of the mid-1970s, when the federal government’s attempts to resolve one problem resulted in a much worse problem, namely the widespread natural gas shortages in the mid-west and northeast. With the gradual lifting of these regulations over the next two decades and the eventual complete deregulation of the production, transportation and sale of natural gas in 1992, natural gas shortages have become a thing of the past (Anonymous, 2013b). “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.” Does our nation have to suffer again because our elected representatives in Washington have not learned from the mistakes of the past?

Under a provision in H. R. 2467, any person who has reason to believe they are or may be adversely affected by mineral activities due to any violation of the requirements of a permit approved under this law may request an inspection. The federal government has ten working days from the receipt of the request to determine whether a violation exists. If it involves an imminent threat to the environment or danger to health or safety of the public, the ten day period shall be waived and the inspection shall be conducted immediately.

It’s important to note that state and federal regulatory agencies already have the authority to conduct unannounced site visits to review any environmental or mine safety aspects of an operation they choose to inspect. However, this and other provisions contained in H. R. 2467 significantly expand these powers, essentially granting the Secretary of Interior and Secretary of Agriculture the authority to inspect all mineral activities to ensure compliance with all provisions contained in this legislation.

One of the particularly troubling aspects is how this provision could be used to deal with issues related to locatable minerals and the validity of mining claims. While current mining law (30 USC ¶¶22 et seq.) does not require validity examinations before allowing exploration or mineral development, provisions contained in H. R. 2467 could be conceivably used to require such determinations (Wooldridge, 2005b).

Furthermore, provisions of this type have been repeatedly used against the mining industry by its critics, whose sole intent is to harass and impede legal activities conducted during all phases of mining activity, including exploration, development, production and reclamation. In order to discourage this type of behavior, proposed legislation should also contain a provision making those who can be shown to have abused this privilege responsible for all damages, including legal fees, that may result from such fraudulent claims.

Finally, the language in H. R. 2467 fails to show proper respect for Americans, who work for the mining industry, unfairly treating them as second class citizens, who cannot be trusted to comply with U. S. laws and regulations. This approach only alienates good, hard-working citizens, who also have an important role to play in any true reform of federal mining laws.

The seventh part in this series will discuss how H. R. 2467 deals with environmental and reclamation issues.

This is the seventh in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).

Environment and Reclamation Issues

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 contains the clause; “unnecessary or undue degradation of lands,” which among other things sets the minimum environmental standards that must be met during the planning, development and operation of all mining projects on federal lands (Anonymous, 2001). In legal terms, this clause recognizes the fact that some environmental damage will always occur during the course of man’s activities. However, H. R. 2467 unfairly singles out the hard rock mining industry compared to all other forms of industrial activity by imposing the higher, unrealistic standard of “undue degradation”, which precludes unavoidable degradation that may result from mining activities. This change is not needed because case histories do not identify any instances where the “unnecessary or undue degradation” standard has caused any problems (Struhsacker and Todd, 2008). An additional layer of competing and incompatible environmental standards will only cause confusion for the mining industry and the regulatory agencies, who implement and enforce these regulations. These extreme measures will likely result in the premature closure of many existing mining operations and will make it virtually impossible to successfully permit the future mining projects, which will be required to meet our present and future demands for locatable minerals.

Among the potential impacts to which the “undue degradation” standard would apply, include but are not limited to, are surface and groundwater withdrawals, surface and groundwater quality, visual impacts and preservation of paleontological and cave resources.

H. R. 2467 requires that surface and groundwater withdrawals made as a result of mining activity cause no undue degradation or material alteration/damage to the hydrologic balance. This provision is unrealistic and would almost certainly negatively impact both existing and future underground and open pit mining projects, as all would require significant dewatering to conduct profitable operations. Mining, by its very nature, occurs within the aquifers and, therefore, cannot avoid material alteration of the hydrologic balance.

As a condition of compliance, an operations permit issued under the provisions set forth in H. R. 2467 requires a mining project’s reclamation plan to demonstrate that ten years following mine closure, no treatment of surface or ground water will be required to meet water quality standards at the point of discharge. This provision employs an arbitrary and unrealistic, one solution fits all approach to resolve a very complex issue, which really requires more flexible site specific solutions to effectively deal with water quality issues that may arise at existing and future mining projects. It would be virtually impossible for every existing mine or any new mining project to meet the standards set forth in this provision and it may be incompatible with existing environmental regulatory standards.

Another provision of this proposed legislation includes the reduction of the visual impact of mineral activities to the surrounding topography, including as necessary the backfilling of open pits. While some mining operations that have several small open pits can be mined in such a way as to use the mined out pits as sites for waste rock storage from other areas on the site, large open pit mining operations seldom have this option. It will also take decades to achieve at large open pits, thereby extending negative impacts related to dust, traffic, noise, and fuel consumption by large earth-moving and haulage equipment as well as significantly extending the time required to reclaim the areas from which this material had been moved. Depending on mineralogy of the rocks at the site, backfilling of open pits may result in greater damage to the water quality than no backfilling at all. Negative impacts on water quality resulting from partial backfilling are particularly severe. The requirement to backfill open pits at most sites will almost certainly make extraction of any low grade resources that may remain in the pit uneconomic at some future date. Finally, this provision ignores the benefits of innovative reclamation practices, which allow a mine site to be reclaimed over the productive life of a mining operation.

This bill refers to “preservation of paleontological and cave resources,” but fails to define this phrase. Sedimentary strata contain billions if not trillions of fossils. Are activities at a mine site to be halted every time someone finds a single fossil? There are several types of mineral occurrences that actually form in natural caverns. Will future production of these mineral resources be banned as a result of this legislation? Similarly, if exploration activities at particular project fail to locate a cave prior to the commencement of mining, will this bill halt a billion dollar project to preserve a single cave, which is found after the commencement of mining operations? And how does one evaluate such a discovery? Physical inspection of any caverns encountered in the high wall of an open pit would never be permitted under Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) safety regulations. Research or tourist activities related to the potential discovery of natural cave would likely not be possible during operations or following mine closure.

H. R. 2467 also requires that complete reclamation of a mining operation must commence after a project has been temporarily suspended for a period of more than five years. Reclamation plans and demonstration of financial assurance to cover reclamation costs are required components of all modern mine operation plans and permits. The requirement to conduct reclamation within five years will severely restrict an operation’s ability to wisely and efficiently mine a rare non-renewable resource. Arbitrary limitations like this fail to recognize the existence of global commodity price cycles that are driven by factors outside of a mining company’s control or advances in technology that may permit the resumption of operations at some future date. Premature reclamation of a site could actually make resumption of mining operations uneconomical under any circumstances. Even if an operation resumed production after premature reclamation, resources required to reclaim the site would be wasted because it would have to be reclaimed for a second time once production of the remaining resources had been completed.

Although copper operations at Ajo, Arizona ceased production in August 1984, a mineral resource of more than one billion tons, averaging 0.32% copper still remains in this open pit. How would provisions in H. R. 2467 impact efforts to resume production at this and other former mine sites?

The bill also requires information on the location and nature of mineral activities located on adjacent non-federal lands, resulting in the application of the undue degradation standard to private properties and state lands. Under current law, the federal government has no jurisdiction over private or state lands, unless they require a federal permit. Significantly, expanding its authority over adjacent lands, is this provision the loop hole the federal government intends to exploit in its effort to acquire jurisdiction over all state and private lands?

The eighth part in this series will discuss the advantages of patenting mining and how it could help rural mining communities avoid the pitfalls of boom and bust economies. It also discusses reclamation of abandoned mine lands.

This is the eighth in a series of nine articles, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).

Patenting and Sustainable Development

Under the General Mining Law of 1872, the claim holders have a right to acquire the title to any unpatented mining claim they may hold, so long as they can demonstrate those claims contain a valid mineral discovery. Since October 1, 1994, however, there has been a moratorium on the issuance of patents on unpatented mining and mill site claims. To date, this moratorium has been temporary, being annually renewed through various Department of Interior appropriations bills.

If enacted H. R. 2467 would make this moratorium permanent, leaving land exchanges as the only method a mining company can use to patent a mining claim. However, successful land exchanges can be very long and politically arduous processes, which commonly leaves mining companies with extremely limited or non-existent opportunities to acquire title to the land they require for efficient production of their ores (Struhsacker, 2002). Examples include ASARCO’s unsuccessful attempt to complete a land exchange at Rosemont southeast of Tucson, Arizona during the late 1990s and Resolution Copper’s on-going, eight-year attempt to acquire title to its new discovery near Superior, Arizona.

At the present time, U. S. law allows a claimant of unpatented mining claims certain rights to occupy the land during the course of exploring, developing and mining a valid mineral discovery. Once mining activities have been completed, the site must be reclaimed in accordance with federal land use objectives, which require it to be returned to as many pre-mining uses as possible or other beneficial uses that conform to applicable land use plans developed by the Department of Interior or Department of Agriculture. In most cases, approved uses are limited to open space, wildlife habitat, recreation and in some instances ranching and the harvesting of timber. During this process, all mine site infrastructure, including roads, utilities, buildings and all other facilities must be removed and the land returned to its natural state.

Although reclamation provisions contained within H. R. 2467 generally conform with current requirements under U. S. law, this approach is short-sighted and overlooks significant advantages that patenting would provide in achieving many of the stated goals set forth in this legislation. Current land management policies create numerous legal and regulatory barriers that thwart a wide variety of productive uses of mined lands following the completion of mining activities, which would actually promote sustainable development. The impacts of these policies are particularly severe in rural mining communities, where they perpetuate “boom and bust” cycles of their local economies.

One solution to these problems would be to replace the current process of patenting mining claims with one that includes an option to purchase the surface rights to land for its fair-market value. Compensation for the mineral rights can be accomplished through a royalty agreement as was discussed earlier. Privatization of mining claims would allow existing mine infrastructure to remain in place, providing additional incentives for property owners to invest in a wide range of post-mining activities, which could promote sustainable development through the creation of long-term employment opportunities and the generation of revenues for federal, state and local governments. It is a win-win for all parties involved, the land owner, the government and all Americans. Examples of such projects include conventional and/or renewable energy power generating plants, industrial parks or landfills. Secondly, it promotes the conservation of natural resources by encouraging the mining industry to plan its projects and manage their land holdings in a manner that would facilitate future commercial activities at the site. Finally, it would also minimize the taxpayer’s liability by making the private land owners solely responsible for maintaining the land in compliance with all local, state and federal environmental regulations (Struhsacker, 2002).

In summary, two of the principal complaints made by critics of mining are its transient nature and its permanent alteration of a pristine landscape. Hard rock mining is unique in that the beneficial minerals of value only constitute a minor or trace component of the rock materials mined and that large volumes of rock are typically excavated to extract the desired contained metals, thereby creating substantial surface impacts. These surface and subsurface impacts cannot be completely eliminated, but can be mitigated to the best extent possible based on sound engineering, environmental and reclamation practices and an understanding of the entire mining life cycle. As long as modern society remains dependent on the products derived from mining, we have an obligation encourage the long-term productive use of the land once mining has been completed. Utilization of already disturbed sites for other productive uses promotes resource conservation, ultimately minimizing environmental damage, elsewhere (Skaer, 2002). Lifting the moratorium on patenting of mining claims is just one option that real mining reform could employ to accomplish this goal.

Reclamation of Abandoned Mine Lands

Under provisions in H. R. 2467, the Secretary of Interior is authorized to collect a displaced material reclamation fee of $0.07/ton of displaced material from all hard rock mining operations located on federal, state, Indian and private lands. These fees will be deposited in a separate account on the books of the Treasury of the United States, where it will be reserved for the reclamation and restoration of land and water resources that have been adversely impacted by historical production of hard rock minerals, mining and related activities.

There is no need for a separate displaced material reclamation fee. All of the royalties collected from hard rock mining operations should be used to reclaim historic abandoned mine lands. Furthermore, placement of these funds in Treasury accounts, where they can be “invested” in public debt securities is unacceptable. That is how the Social Security Trust Fund became insolvent with its funds originally intended to be used to provide for the needs of every American after retirement being diverted to pay for programs unrelated to its original intent.

It is important that these funds only be distributed to Bureau of Land Management, U. S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers and state governmental agencies, who have a proven track record of successfully reclaiming historic abandoned mine sites (Skaer, 2009c). Under no circumstances should these funds be distributed to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), like the Center for Biological Diversity. They neither have the technical or scientific expertise nor a proven track record in accomplishing these tasks.

The final part in this series will summarize conclusions put forth in this series of articles on H. R. 2467 and offer suggestions for a more balanced and equitable approach for mining reform.

This is the final article in a series of nine editorials, which examine the complex issues raised by the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act (H. R. 2467).


Mining reform is a very complex issue involving our economy, national security, royalties, the use of our public lands and the environment. Like previous attempts to reform U. S. mining laws, priorities set forth in H. R. 2467 are so focused on dealing with environmental and social issues related to mining locatable minerals on public lands, it fails to respond to any of the significant and widespread negative impacts that would result from regressive provisions contained in this legislation should it be enacted into law.

The possibility of this legislation accomplishing its stated goals is nil, because the proposed gross income royalty of 12.5 percent and other provisions contained within this bill will make it too costly for domestic mining operations to remain competitive on the world market. With reduced domestic exploration efforts and fewer operating mines, the total revenues remitted to local, state and federal governments from these sources will be only a fraction of what they are now. Its heavy-handed approach attempts to address potential environmental problems at future mines by creating conditions that will effectively eliminate the development of new mining projects in this nation. It will not resolve the environmental issues at existing or former operations, because without a healthy domestic mining industry there will be no funds to pay for this reclamation. If enacted, H. R. 2467 will likely end up costing taxpayers billions in lost tax revenues and associated social costs resulting from the loss of jobs in the mining industry and other businesses that provide goods and services to our nation’s mines. The costs resulting from a weakened national security are incalculable.

Throughout history, our nation has greatly benefited from our vast mineral wealth, which has made America great. In successfully dealing with these complex issues, any mining reform legislation must use a more balanced and equitable approach. The mining industry fully supports this concept. Recognizing that economic mineral deposits are rare, and only occur at sites where favorable geological factors are present, any successful mining reform legislation must include:

1) provisions that are designed to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign imports and strengthen our national security.

2) provisions that provide the mining industry secure access to the land and minerals throughout all phases of mining activity.

3) provisions that require any consideration to withdraw public lands from mineral entry to be accompanied by a detailed study on the positive and negative impacts such an action would have on local communities, the state and the nation. One of component of this study would be an assessment of the area’s present and future mineral potential and how such a withdrawal of could impact our economic and national security needs for these minerals.

4) provisions that preserve the Multiple Land Use Doctrine. All future withdrawals of public lands from mineral entry must be accomplished through the passage of legislation by both Houses of Congress and signed by the President. Use of the Antiquities Act to deny mineral entry should be expressly prohibited by any future mining reform legislation.

5) provisions that encourage the private sector to find innovative solutions, which will help local, state and federal governments to meet other unrelated challenges. This includes practices that promote sustainable development, which allows mined lands to be returned to a wide variety of productive uses once mining activities are completed.

6) provisions that encourage the conservation and efficient extraction of our natural resources. This includes development and use of new technology and modern mining, environmental, engineering and mine safety practices, which will minimize a mining operation’s impact on the surrounding environment.

7) provisions that recognize our existing federal, state and local environmental laws are capable of dealing with any issue that might arise during the course of conducting mining activities. Any new environmental standards that may be required must be realistic, attainable and compatible with existing laws.

8) provisions that will enable the time required to permit a mining project to be shortened so long as protections provided under the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 (NEPA) are not compromised.

9) provisions that provide for a royalty to be collected from the production of locatable minerals on public lands, which is based on historical royalties that have been paid by the hard rock mining industry.

10) provisions that continue to support existing federal and state abandoned mine lands reclamation programs and fund these programs with revenues collected by the federal royalties on production of locatable minerals and donations by persons, corporations, associations and foundations.

11) provisions that recognize mining operations can have many lives as a result of changes in commodity prices, the costs of extracting and processing the ores and advances in technology.

12) provisions that recognize the modern day realities of the challenges, risks, costs, and timelines in exploring for, developing, mining and processing locatable minerals on public lands as well as reclaiming the mine sites once mining has been completed.

While these suggestions are representative of the mining industry’s position on this subject, any successful resolution of the complex issues raised by mining reform is going to require an out of the box approach. Its success will require the full participation of all parties involved; business, environmental community, government and the public. If we can find ways to work together to constructively resolve our differences, I am confident we can find practical solutions for these difficult and challenging issues.

References Cited

Anonymous, 2001, The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 As Amended: Compiled by the U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Office of the Solicitor, Washington, D.C., October 2001, 69 p.

Anonymous, 2013b, The History of Regulation: Natural, World Wide Web,, Date Accessed, July 9, 2013.

Papke, K. G. and Davis D. A., 2002, Nevada Claim Procedures for Nevada Prospectors and Miners, Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, 5th Edition, Special Publication, n. 6, 57 p.

Quinn, Hal, 2012, H. R. 4402 Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act of 2012: Testimony of Hal Quinn, President and CEO National Mining Association before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Resources, April 26, 2012, 7 p.

Silver, Douglas B. and Courtney, Arthur, 2009, When Ignorance Meets Greed: Welcome to the New Mining Law: Mining Engineering, v. 61, n. 2, p. 8-9.

Skaer, Laura, 2002, Mining and Sustainable Development: Presentation to California Mining Association, Northwest Mining Association, May 24, 2002, 23 p.

Skaer, Laura, 2007, Bureau of Land Management Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 43 CFR Part 3800, 72 Fed. Reg. 8139, Surface Management Regulations for Locatable Mineral Operations: Northwest Mining Association, Letter to Director of Bureau of Land Management, April 23, 2007, 11 p.

Skaer, Laura, 2009c, Legislative Hearing on H. R. 699 – Hard Rock Mining and Reclamation Act: Northwest Mining Association, Letter to Congressmen Jim Costa and Doug Lamborn, March 11, 2009, 9 p.

Struhsacker, Debra, W., 2002, A Concept Paper Describing Why Mineral Patents are Necessary to Achieve Sustainable Development and Limit Public Liability Following Mining on Federal Land: Northwest Mining Association, Concept Paper, October 2002, 3 p.

Struhsacker, Debra W. and Todd, Jeffrey W., 2008, The Environmental Provisions in the House Mining Law Bill (H. R. 2262) are Solutions in Search of a Problem: Northwest Mining Association, January 2008, 28 p.

Wooldridge, Sue E., 2005b, Legal Requirements for Determining Mining Claim Validity Before Approving a Mining Plan of Operations: United States Department of Interior, Memorandum to Gale Norton, Secretary of Interior from Sue E. Wooldridge, Solicitor, M-37012, November 17, 2005, 5 p.