Comments on new Forest Planning Rule

To: Secretary USDA Tom Vilsack and FS Chief Tom Tidwell

From: Nancy Freeman
          P. O. Box 934
         Green Valley, AZ 85622

Date: March 5, 2012


I was happy to learn of the rewrite of the National Forest planning rule. The greater emphasis on protection, restoration and water preservation rather than commodity explotation is most welcome and consistent with the Organic and Multiple Use and Sustained Yield Acts. 

However, I am concerned and frustrated because there is a gigantic oversight in the new rules. They do not include the problems caused by mining in on public National Forests. They deal with the logging industry and the devastation it causes, the lack of sustainability, and the impact on watershed and wildlife, but eliminates the impacts of mining on these very issues. Hardrock, pit mining causes even greater devastation than logging; a devastation that cannot be replanted or recovered, especially in the Southwest where the rain is sparse and the topsoil is poor.

And I do know about mining pollution. I spent six years of my life getting clean water in my community from the local Sierrita copper mine that was polluting our public wells with sulfates. Radioactive chemicals also exist in the plume, but they had not reached the public wells yet. When that project was going well, I thought I could take a break—but no, the Forest Service began enabling another mining project in the region that will take our public lands and turn them into toxic waste dumps with a big jewel of a toxic pit in the middle of the forest. My first report on the proposed Rosemont mine in the Coronado Forest was in February, 2007. So I have spent 10 years of my life—without any pay—getting clean water for my community, then trying to prevent others to have to go through what I did to obtain clean drinking water. And of course to have an adequate water supply, which is a prevalant issue in the Southwest.

The history of the formation and development of the National Forests reserves is replete with the need to preserve the forests for a healthy environment and water supply, as well as habitat for wildlife and recreational uses. A Forest Planning Rule that purports to protect, conserve forests, and even contemplates spending money to restore forests and watersheds while ignoring the irreversible destruction of hardrock, pit mining on thousands of acres of “forest reserves” cannot be valid and will not be upheld in a court of law.

In a law suit in 2003, Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr., U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, ruled that the Bureau of Land Management has the authority to and must prevent substantial damage to public lands under the undue or unnecessary degradation (UUD) standard of the Federal Lands Management and Policy Act (FLPMA)

“The court finds that the Solicitor [of the Interior Department] misconstrued the clear mandate of FLPMA. FLPMA, by its plain terms, vests the Secretary of the Interior with the authority–and indeed the obligation–to disapprove of an otherwise permissible mining operation because the operation, though necessary for mining, would unduly harm or degrade the public land.”  [Page 20 of court opinion]

The Forest Service comes under that same Management Act. The FS personnel tout their multi-use mandate, but I can't find a single allusion to covering the forest with toxic pit lakes, waste rock and slurry, all with toxic heavy metals, as one of the “uses” called out for our forest reserves. The actions of the Forest Service in permiting mining will affect an entire region in ways that EIS's and EA's do not address. The residents of the region of the proposed Rosemont mine on Coronado National Forest reserves listed 145 effects of the proposed mine on the local citizens and environment.

If a Planning Rule is passed without stopping this destruction, the Forest Service will have to change their mission statement to

Except where there are minerals available to be sold on the International Market by foreign corporations who will destroy thousands of acres of century-old trees while creating huge toxic lakes and waste piles laced with heavy metals and processing chemicals to pollute the watershed, wild life habitat and recreation sites, the mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.

Further, the Forest Service (FS) will have to remove their “For a healthy environment, keep your forests green” signs throughout the Southwest. They represent a hypocritical double-speak—enjoining the public to protect the forests while the FS permits their destruction.

I do understand that the persons writing the new Forest Planning Rule know nothing about mining —or they would not be ignoring it. (This ignorance is good example of why National Forests should be withdrawn from mining.) To get an idea of the devastation, I implore you to take a glimpse of photos from our local mine on private land: Photos of Sierrita mine, Pima County, AZ

And please check out the report sent to Congresspersons Grijalva and Giffords in regard to withdrawing the local Tucson, Arizona mountains from mining because of the multiple ramifications to the environment and community. True, this is a local situation, but the issues are the same at every hardrock, pit mine.

And take a look at the old growth oak trees that are destined to be destroyed by mining in Arizona:
Save our old growth oak trees

Letter to Chief Tidwell, December 2010

Reply from Deputy Joel Holtrop, March 2011

Second Letter to Chief Tidwell, January 2012

The costs, liabilities and consequences of mining are many, as delineated below. However, a major fallacy needs to be cleared up. The continual allusions to the 1872 mining law as if written in stone. Good—because the 1872 mining law only covers surface mining of following mineral veins. It did not include placer mining—and crushing and milling bedrock of only 2% and less mineral falls into the category of placer mining. Further, the mining law specifically states that the miner can “patent” 5 acres of land to serve for the facilities. In a case in Arizona, the mining company plans to 3,500 acres of “unpatented” forest land for their 90 patented claims. According to the 1872 mining law, they are entitled to a total of 450 “patented” acres. The law also states that the miners must be American citizens. So to tout the 1872 mining law is to give an excuse, not a reason.

Bottom Line: First, I want to know how these scenarios—mentioned above and detailed below—fit into the “purpose and need for action,” enumerated in the first chapter of the planning rule.* Second, I want to know how these scenarios fit into Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's “vision” of the future of our forests.**


Levels of Planning

The Forest Service strategic plan contains the following goals:

  • Restore, sustain, and enhance the nation's forests and grasslands,
  • Provide and sustain benefits to the American people,
  • Conserve open space,
  • Sustain and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities,
  • Maintain basic management capabilities of the Forest Service,
  • Engage urban America with Forest Service programs, and
  • Provide science-based applications and tools for sustainable natural
         resources management. (Page 3)


On August 14, 2009, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined his vision for the future of our nation's forests, setting forth a new direction for conservation, management, and restoration of NFS lands. Secretary Vilsack stated that, “It is time for a change in the way we view and manage America 's forestlands with an eye towards the future. This will require a new approach that engages the American people and stakeholders in conserving and restoring both our National Forests and our privately-owned forests.” (Page 7)

There are many reasons that all the National Forests should be withdrawn from mining: 

I.     Cost to Taxpayer
II.   Foresters do not have expertise to analyze and permit mine operations
III. Toxic waste, chemical solutions and hazardous waste spills
 Watershed and Climate Change
V.    Toxic pit lakes
 Air Pollution
VII. Reclamation Bonds
VIII. Water Depletion
XI. Conclusion

I.  Cost to Taxpayers

The greatest cost to Federal and local taxpayers has been the cost of bringing water to Arizona. The cost of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) to install a pipeline to bring Colorado River water to Phoenix was 4.7 billion. Of this 2.4 billion was to come from Federal taxpayers (plus the 1 billion for the de-sal plant at Yuma , which operated for 4 months). However, because of the Indian water settlement, .65 billion was subtracted from the Arizona share and added to the Federal share. So the total cost to Federal Taxpayers was 4.05 billion + $73 millions waived fee to cotton subsidy farmers to bring water to Arizona .

While we Arizona taxpayers are still paying off the CAP bill on our property taxes, another federal agency that purports to protect watersheds is permitting a high water use project that will take water from the upstream side of Tucson Basin while also polluting the watershed.

The process to permit a mine on Forest Service reserves is costly to the Forest Service. I have requested an accounting from the National Forest Service office for the amount of dollars the local Coronado Forest Service has expended of their time in accommodating a mining company, instead of managing, conserving and protection our forests for current and future use.

There are not many things that are certain in today's world, but I am certain of one thing: The U.S. taxpayers have not been papying the Forest Service to manage the forest for some 100 years only to see it be destroyed by mining. I cannot find a single reference to such a scenario in any of the Acts governing the National Forest. How does the Forest Service plan to reimburse the taxpayers their mis-spent money?

On March 5, 2008, a Forest Service representative signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rosemont Copper Company (aka Augusta Resource). The Forest Service's proposed action, which is "administrative" in nature, is “to approve the MPO [Mine Plan of Operations], which would, in turn, grant permission to the Proponent to build and operate specific mine-related facilities on [unpatented] NFS land.”

I challenge the Forest Service. You have outlined 16 pages of commitments to the mining company. What is your responsibility and commitment to the public who are the owners of the forest and the taxpayers who maintain these the lands and pay your salaries?

A hidden cost is for the perpetual oversight the States and Federal Government. No one ever figures that into their figures on the cost to the taxpayers of having these mines that produce profits and metals for the foreign markets.

Another uncountable cost is the time, money and energy expended by the local concerned citizens for the past five years trying to get the forest personnel to “keep the environment healthy and our forests green.”

II.  Foresters do not have expertise to analyze and permit mine operations

Foresters know nothing about mining and its destruction; therefore, foresters should not be responsible for permitting mining operations on our “forest reserves.” I know about mining and its pollution of air and water because I have spent years of my life getting clean water for my community from the local copper mine, then Rosemont came along. Even with this hands-on training, I could not possibly know enough to qualify to analyze a mining operation. Whereas, here in Arizona on one proposed mine, a forester from the Inyo National Forest , which is full of trees and water, where he had experience with roadless wilderness, is making a decision about a mining operation. And he is not the only staff person who knows nothing about mining. It's excruciatingly painful to hear the Coronado FS staff parroting the words of the mining company with no mining background or technical expertise to even know what the company spokespersons are talking about, much less question their suppositions and assumptions.

One blaring example is in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)—a tome of some 1,000 pages—for Rosemont mine in Tucson, AZ. In the two chapters that summarized and outlined the “environmental impacts” of the mining operation, the most common word is “may,” certainly not a technical, scientific term. In the Executive Summary, “may” is used 67 times and “could” is used 11 times. In Chapter 1, “may” is used 60 times and “could” 5 times. Not knowing enough to ask for crucial analysis, the FS signed off on the document and released it for public comment. And the public has commented—some 25,000 comments.

Articles from local newspapers:

Coronado: Final Rosemont EIS needs great science
by Dick Kamp, Wick Communications, Wilcox Range News
The Rosemont mine Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) comment period ends January 18. After reviewing pieces of it concerning water quality related issues, this reporter wonders whether the Forest Service will give the final EIS the intense scientific scrutiny required by law to ensure that the mine demonstrates that it cannot pollute....
This is a serious request by the environmental regulator, and Coronado wrote back: " The outcome of the geochemical modeling peer review indicated that these tests are adequate. The Forest may decide to request more tests to be conducted between DEIS and (Final EIS) FEIS."
The Coronado said "maybe, maybe not, whatever" regarding the most obvious potential source of water pollution? [Note: And it's because they do not know. An illustration of why they should not be doing this permitting.]

EPA asks for revised DEIS on Rosemont Mine
by Dick Kamp, Wick Communications, Wilcox Range News
The Environmental Protection Agency has asked Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch to submit a revised or supplemental draft Environmental Impact Statement for public review, rating the existing DEIS “environmentally unsatisfactory with inadequate information.”

Further, I, Nancy Freeman, had given extensive comments during the scoping period (oral, written and webpage submittals) on Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM). I queried the FS staff geologist as to why TENORM had not been assessed, or even mentioned, in the DEIS, as we were told every issue brought up in scoping would be addressed individually in the DEIS. The geologist answered, “Oh, they checked for any radioactivity out there, but they didn't find much.” I explained to her again (as she was present at the hearing when I spoke) that TENORM is enhanced radioactivity created when uranium is milled along with copper ore, mixed with chemicals and thrown out to the landscape in the mining slurry to interact with soil, water and air to breakdown to its more toxic “daughters” of Gross Alpha, Radon, etc. The danger is so prevalent here in Arizona that when EPA did their landmark study on TENORM in 1999, they used Arizona copper mines for their data.
Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Southwestern Copper Belt of Arizona

One example of why there cannot be the same rules for every forest; each area has its unique problems. However, the danger of TENORM is prevalent throughout the western U.S. , including Washington State. In this case, there was uranium mining, which creates multiple problems.

Midnite Mine, owned by Dawn/Newmont, located on the Spokane Indian Reservation, is an inactive open-pit uranium mine closed in 1981, leaving behind 2.4 million tons of stockpiled ore (containing 2 million pounds of uranium oxide) plus 33 million tons of waste rock. Two of the six excavated pits are open and partially filled with water. Exposed rocks from the ore piles generate acid rock drainage. Radionuclides and heavy metals have contaminated groundwater, seeps and surface water, including Blue Creek.

Radionuclides of concern at the Midnite mine and in downstream watersheds include Uranium-238 decay series isotopes such as Uranium-238, Radium-226, Thorium-230 and Radon-222. Heavy metal contaminants of concern include: Aluminum, Arsenic, Barium, Beryllium, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Lead, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Selenium, Silver, Thallium, Uranium, Vanadium, and Zinc.

There are many other adminstrative issues in permitting the Rosemont Copper mine in the Coronado National Forest that give a model of the problems faced by the Forest Service personnel, so that they start breaking their own rules. Administrative problems in permitting Rosemont Mine The situation has become so charged with illogic that thr Arizona Game and Fish were told to get lost by the creators of the DEIS. AZ Game and Fish letter to Forest Service

The Agency had made extensive comments on the Rosemont DEIS regarding specis and habitat—45 pages. They estimate that over $1,000,000 in revenues will be lost over the 25 years—but it's really more than that—it's forever. As I always say, "Grass seeds do not replace oak trees." AZ Game and Fish comments

Toxic waste, chemical solutions and hazardous waste spills

Mining is toxic endeavor. EPA keeps an inventory of the toxic releases of mining. Six to seven of the top ten "releasers" in Arizona are consistantly mining operations. Data for Arizona 2008-2010
Millions of pounds of waste are delivered annually to the environment. And this data is just for one state; all the western states have similar data. See EPA's Toxic Release Inventory database.

In their comprehensive study, Predicting Water Quality Problems at Hard Rock Mines: A Failure of Science, Oversight and Good Practice, the researchers Anne Maest, Ph.D. and Jim Kuipers, P.E. did comparisons of predicted water quality impacts and after-the-fact water quality impacts. In other words the reliability of the figures calculated in the official Envionmental Impact Statements.

The Report shows that 100 percent of mines predicted compliance with water quality standards before operations began; however, 76 percent of mines studied in detail exceeded water quality standards due to mining activity.

For entire report: Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mines

Various toxic chemicals are used with mining operations, particularly to separate the copper, less than 1% from the rest of the components of the crushed bedrock, which could be uranium, selenium, chromium, lead or other toxic heavy metals.

Flotation procssing chemicals:

Toxic chemicals are used in the Flotation Process to separate the copper and molybdenum out of the milled powder. This Flotation process is the major extraction method at Duval/Sierrita mine because of the poor quality of the copper at this site. Some chemicals produce bubbles that that the copper adheres to and the "bad stuff" falls to the bottom. These chemicals are hydrocarbons with complex configurations, but some are as simple as kerosene. It is claimed that the volatile organics used in the Flotation Process do not go into the slurry that goes into the tailings impoundment because they are filtered out before the slurry goes to the impoundment. This is not a sound analysis.

1) Filtration is not a treatment technology for volatile organics. Treatment is pushing air the solution which releases the volatile chemicals into the air [Bless the employees who endure this process—it would definitely fall under OSHA regulations].

2) Some are amine compounds that break down into nitrates, so the presence of nitrates in the groundwater is an indicator of travel of these compounds, which can be very mobile in an oxygen solution (H 2O).

Some of the Chemicals Used in Flotation Process:

  • Alky Aryl Oxime
  • Petroleum Distillate
  • Sulfosuccinate surfactant
  • Alkyl xanthate salt
  • Nalco 7873—no chemical formula given
  • Alcohol/hydrocarbon blend

 After the copper, gold or other desireable metals are leached out with an acid solution, they call the remaining brew of heavy metals "barren" leach solution. Check out the characteristics of "barren" Leach Solution Understanding the composition of this "spent" or "barren" solution when analyzing the Hazardous Waste Incidents.

Hazardous Waste Incidents

Since 1990, t he National Response Center has taken over the responsibility of keeping the data for hazardous waste "incidents" throughout the U.S. Their records show that in Arizona there have been 328 "incidents" by the major 5 mines.

Records of Hazardous Waste Spills by Arizona mines only--

Records for ASARCO 1990 - 2012
Summary on Excel sheet

108 Incidents; four mines. Note that if the incident involved several different toxic materials, the number is duplicated for each material

Records for BHP 1990 - 2012  
Summary on Excel sheet

43 Incidents; two mines. Note that if the incident involved several different toxic materials, the number is duplicated for each material

Records for Cyprus 1990 - 1999 (sold to PD in 1999)  
Summary on Excel sheet
55 Incidents; four mines. Note that if the incident involved several different toxic materials, the number is duplicated for each material

Records for Phelps Dodge (PD) 1990 - 2008 (Sold to FM in 2008)
Summary on Excel sheet
98 Incidents; four mines. Note that if the incident involved several different toxic materials, the number is duplicated for each material

Records for Freeport-McMoran (FM) 2008 - 2012
Summary on Excel sheet

24 Incidents; four mines. Note that if the incident involved several different toxic materials, the number is duplicated for each material

Many incidents were attributed to Natural Phenomenon, such heavy rains, winds or frozen pipelines.

6 incidents occured on railroad:

ASARCO = 4 incidents, releasing sulfuric acid (2), arsenic acid, lead sulfide to the soil and atmosphere
Phelps Dodge = 2 incidents , releasing sulfuric acid

The NRC Website: Link NRC Data Base Query Form*

Stormwater carries the chemicals to nearby regions. Arizona and other states have regulations to control pollution by stormwater, even running off construction sites.

Local history of environmental impact of sulfuric acid spills

The public water company in Green Valley, AZ water quality records had periodic unexplained spikes in the sulfate and TDS readings. When I found out about the sulfuric acid spills, I was able to correlate the date of the spills two miles away (but uphill) with the spikes in the water company data. It consistantly took 36 months for the acid to reach the public supply wells. Take not that sulfate and TDS are not regulated, although it sure made a difference in our drinking water. We all had installed R/O water filtering systems—except the local nursing home and low-income retirement home for the elderly.

History of impact of Sulfuric Acid Spills on public wells in Green Valley

Watershed and Climate Change

Who can explain the logic? All over the world, there are extensive projects to plant trees for watershed, clean water, and climate control, while in the arid Southwest a government agency that claims to protect the forest and watershed is proposing to permit projects that will destroy thousands of mature trees, including a majority of old growth trees, since these areas were not used for the logging industry. We have several examples in Arizona including Oak Flat, the Santa Ritas, and the north Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The proposed Rosemont mine will bury some 24,000 mature trees under 100 ft. of waste rock and mining slurry, including oaks, walnuts and desert willows. Another 9,000 will disappear with the digging of a mile wide pit on "patented"FS land because the FS is in the processing of permitting the dumping of waste rock and slurry piles on our Forest Service land. The proposed Wildcat Silver mine will also bury hundreds of these same species, plus hundreds of incredible specimens of Arizona sycamores.

At the proposed Oak Flat operation, even though the region was protected by two Republican U. S. presidents (Eisenhower and Nixon) the oak forest will be at the bottom of a crater that mining company estimates will be the size of the meteor crater (one mile across and more than 550 feet deep). The centuries-old trees cannot possibly survive the upheaval. No one has bothered to analyze what will happen when the crater fills with rainwater over time and what will happen to the canyons and washes that used to get replenished by the water which would be captured in a crater.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon has been maintained as a wilderness area for over one hundred years, thanks to the foresight of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt. When visiting that area, I have seen more animals in the forest than anywhere else in the Southwest, yet mining corporations want to destroy it forever, for a profit today. Who can explain the logic? Fortunately, most of it has been saved from mining by the Department of Interior. But is the Forest reserve land still vulnerable?

Toxic Pit Lakes:

The dewatering of the ever-deepening pit constitutes a continual drawdown on the water table, acting as a sump, or vortex. When mining ends, the pit fills with rainwater, which leaches metals of the pit walls, thereby increasing the toxicity over the years. This toxic water seeps down into the underground channels that were dried by dewatering, spreading heavy metal pollution throughout the region.

And the pit becomes a toxic lake. In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified 18 existing pit lakes in Nevada. Water quality data was obtained for 12 of the existing lakes. All pit lakes for which water quality data was obtained contained at least one trace element at concentrations that are potentially toxic to aquatic life or wildlife. For the full report, Assessment of Wildlife Hazards Associated with Mine Pit Lakes

Pit lakes, sulfuric acid leaching ponds and tailing impoundments have all been held responsible for bird kill… particularly migratory birds.

1) “In 1995, a flock of migrating snow geese landed in the Berkeley Pit water and died, with 342 carcasses recovered. [3] …. Necropsies showed their insides were lined with burns and festering sores from exposure to high concentrations of copper, cadmium, and arsenic.”

2) April 19 2009 —“ A grim death toll of migrating tundra swans is again being observed at northern Idaho marshes contaminated with toxic mining waste.

The swans headed for breeding grounds in Alaska stop at the marshes along the Coeur d'Alene River .

“But the roots and tubers they feed on are laced with lead that's part of about 100 million tons of mining waste from the Silver Valley that has washed into the river system over the past century.

“Lead shuts down the swans' digestive systems, and the birds slowly starve to death.

“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Biologist Kate Healy says at least 150 of the large birds die each year as a result.”

3) At A Conference on Ecosystem Services (ACES) conference in 2008, Russ MacRae, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Albuquerque , NM , gave a comprehensive REA modeling of bird injuries at copper mines in Arizona and New Mexico. He would be worth contacting for more information.

4) April, 2004 – Thomas Sansonetti, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division announced today that Phelps Dodge Morenci, Inc. has pled guilty to a single misdemeanor count of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in federal district court in Phoenix, Arizona. Specifically, the defendant was charged by information filed in open court today with taking or killing migratory birds in violation of the Act.

According to the information, over sixty birds were found dead on the Morenci Mine Site between October 2000 and March 2001. Since then, additional dead birds were found on the Site. The information charges Phelps Dodge Morenci, Inc. with the deaths of forty-three birds identified as being migratory species protected under the Act.

Some of the impounded waters on the site, near which the dead birds were found, contained acidic waters resulting from the mining process. Laboratory studies have demonstrated that ingestion of sulfuric acid and copper solutions is lethal to migratory birds.

VI.   Air Pollution

There are three major sources of air pollution: fumes from smelters, dust from tailings, dust from milling operations

In all cases, there are two major questions: What is the content of the fumes or dust? How big are the particulates? In other words, the smaller they are the more invasive to the lungs.

Report to the Coronado National Forest on dust issues related to mining with photos

EPA's list of possible avenues of offending particles produced by metal mining

VII. Reclamation Bonds

Any mining reclamation plan must emphasize giving clean water to the surrounding communities and this case, the forests—no matter the cost to the mining company

The bond must assure clean water after closeout. A major cost will be the continual cleaning of groundwater and stormwater after operations. There will be water problems. There must be adequate liners on all the tailings and leaching facilities. The bedrock of any mining area is full of cracks and fissures that enable flow of chemicals and pollutants. The bedrock may be calcium/magesium, which is said to be a buffer for the acid, but to be a buffer the acid must dissolve the metals, thus freeing the whole mess to flow to groundwater.

As we know in the Summitville case in Colorado, the company only had a $3 million dollar bond, so when the pollution from heavy metals got too great because of a damanged liner in the leach system, the company walked away with a bankruptcy.

The Bagdad mine in Arizona received EPA violation from the results of putting a tailing impoundment over a wash. Further, Bagdad mine had a plethora of sulfuric acid spills because it was trucked in over hilly terrain. How will this impact on groundwater in a suburban area be addressed? In an urban, suburban area, we cannot wait until the pollution has occurred to start a mitagation project.

New Mexico is the leader in the requirements of adequate bonds for realistic reclamation. The reclamation bond for the Chino and Tyrone mines is $350 million each—in upfront money of Certificates of Deposit, not credit ratings. New

The Center for Science in Public Participation (CSP2), a Bozeman, Montanta non-profit that provides data and technical support for grassroots environmental groups, produces a newletter with down-to-earth, understanable facts and figures about the effects of mining. In their most recent newsletter they analyzed the issues with reclamation bonds:

Funding Reclamation & LTMM [Long term monitoring and maintenance]

CSP2 has worked diligently on long-term reclamation funding issues for well over a decade. CSP2 published “Hardrock Reclamation Bonding Practices in the Western United States” by Jim Kuipers in 2000, and performed a detailed analysis of the reclamation sureties for all major Alaska mines, culminating in a report “Alaska Large Mine Reclamation Bonding – 2005” that was presented at several major professional meetings.

The money to pay for the reclamation of a mine, should the operator go into bankruptcy, is commonly referred to as a “reclamation bond”. However, “bond” refers to a specific financial instrument, while the money to accomplish reclamation can be a letter-of-credit (the most common surety form today), cash, bond, insurance policy, or other financial instrument that is acceptable to regulatory agencies, which are responsible for insuring that the public is not liable for these costs. The more correct term for this money is “financial surety” which covers all of the different potential financial instruments. However, the term “bond” has been and will continue to be used interchangeably with “financial surety”.

What Should be Included in a “Bond”

The reclamation bond (financial surety) should not only cover the costs of moving dirt to cover the direct impacts of mining and any long term water treatment costs, which typically can double the amount of the financial surety, but it should also cover holding costs, and Long Term Monitoring & Maintenance (LTMM). Holding costs are the costs that would be incurred by the regulatory agency immediately after a bankruptcy and before actual reclamation begins – costs like continuing water treatment, routine maintenance, and the other non-operating costs involved with holding a piece of disturbed land until reclamation can begin. Long Term Monitoring & Maintenance costs include water quality monitoring, maintenance of tailings dams, waste rock dumps, and roads. These facilities will need to remain in place in perpetuity, even after the mine is “reclaimed”.

There are a number of ways that agencies can come up short on the amount of money required for a reclamation surety. Items can be underestimated, omitted, or ignored. For example, holding costs have been omitted from many reclamation surety estimates. Even for those financial sureties where holding costs have been included they are often underestimated – especially the length of time a mine will remain awaiting-reclamation before the actual reclamation work actually begins. Often omitted is the cost of annual inflation. The average rate of inflation since 1914 has be 3.37% (annual). If a reclamation surety is $25 - $50 million (but could be over $300 million), the annual increased liability to the public is $840,000 - $1.7 million, an amount that most agencies would be strapped to come up with. The typical reclamation surety is revisited by an agency every 5 years, with no inflation provision during that period.

Example of reclamation issue at Zortman Mine in northern Montana with photos

Will a “Bond” Cover an Environmental Accident?

There is some confusion as to what a reclamation bond (financial surety) will cover.

A bond (financial surety) for a mine can only be used for “reasonably foreseeable circumstances.” The bond provides money for dirt work to close the mine, for water treatment costs, and for long term monitoring and maintenance.

A financial surety cannot be used to cover the costs of environmental accidents related to the mine, such as those caused by heavy rain or earthquakes, and it cannot be used to compensate neighbors of the mine whose property or businesses may be damaged financially by the mine.

If a tailings dam fails, if fish are killed, if dust impacts farms, none of these are covered by the financial surety. In fact, there is usually no financial mechanism at a mine to pay for these impacts, other than litigation against the mine operator (if they still exist).

So, the short answer to the question “Will a mine bond cover the costs of an environmental accident” is NO. This is a commonly misunderstood, but clearly an important point, about regulatory guarantees.

There could be a simple, systematic, solution to this problem – like a general reclamation fund that all mines contribute to, and is available in these unforeseen, emergency situations – but there is no such fund available anywhere today, or any proposal for other solutions. This same generic approach to a fund for “unforeseen” emergencies could also be used to pay for environmental accidents at mines, but this would require a much bigger fund. Asking for the mining industry to pay for this fund would be very controversial, and the mining industry would fight any such proposal.

From ‘The Logbook,' the newsletter of the Center for Science in Public Participation, Spring 2012, and reprinted with the permission of CSP2.

VIII. Water Depletion

I maintain a complete website on the problems with water depletion in Arizona (, but I will spare you those ponderous details. However, as the Executive Director of Groundwater Awareness League in Arizona, I conducted a compaign to protect water in public lands. I think that information is relevant to the current situation.

I have been working on protecting water in public lands for some time. In addition to mining, the forests in the West are in danger due to land swaps that put developments that are heavy water users, such as resorts and golf courses, on the edge of the forests; thereby, depleting the water table in the region. A glaring example is again here in Arizona. Along the Oak Creek road out of Sedona, north to Flagstaff , the number of dead trees, even near the creek is a disheartening testimony to the lack of sensible management of water resources for our forests reserves.

In February, 2007, I gave a report on protecting water in public lands at a public hearing on hardrock mining and mining in the Santa Ritas, held in Pima County by U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva. Protecting water in Public Lands

In March, 2007, I submitted a report to U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords regarding the subject when she sponsored a local Water Forum. We need to protect water levels in public lands: National Parks, National Forests, Wildlife Refuges and BLM Conservation Areas

The water use of the mining companies is often a contentious issue:

Arizona hayseeds won't sell water rights to Rosemont for any price

Recently, many of us received letters from Rosemont Copper Co. offering us the deal of the century: For a fistful of dollars now, give up forever all claims against the company's proposed open-pit copper mine for depleting our drinking-water wells. See entire article

Augusta Resource claims rights to surface water meant for plants and wildlife in a national forest region!!

Questa Spring
Barrel Canyon
McCleary Canyon
Wasp Canyon
Rosemont Spring
Two unnamed springs

List of existing wells Augusta Resouce has claimed for groundwater in the region.

IX. Conclusion

In conclusion, I shouldn't have to remind you, but I feel I must, of the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA) passed to counter damage to natural ecosystems on public forest reserves.

This Act requires the Secretary of Agriculture to evaluate forest lands, develop a management program based on multiple-use, sustained-yield principles, and implement a resource management plan for each unit of the National Forest System. The act is the primary regulation governing the administration of national forests.

[Note: The Act does specify timber, but why shouldn't the guidelines apply to hardrock, pit mining, also.]

"(E) insure that timber will be harvested from National Forest System lands only where

"(i) soil, slope, or other watershed conditions will not be irreversibly damaged;

"(ii) there is assurance that such lands can be adequately restocked within five years after harvest;

"(iii) protection is provided for streams, stream-banks, shorelines, lakes, wetlands, and other bodies of water from detrimental changes in water temperatures, blockages of water courses, and deposits of sediment, where harvests are likely to seriously and adversely affect water conditions or fish habitat;...

"(v) such cuts are carried out in a manner consistent with the protection of soil, watershed, fish, wildlife, recreation, and esthetic resources, and the regeneration of the timber resource.

If you could come to Arizona (or Colorado, or New Mexico) and see for yourselves the awesome devastation of mining, you would insist a new Forest Rule would eliminate hardrock pit mining from our forests forever. It's the only logical action to take if we are going to have clean water, air and soils for the future.

"The conditions of the forests and the wasteful manner in which their destruction is taking place give cause for serious apprehension." — U.S. President Chester A. Arthur in 1882.