Two-year mining moratorium on millions of acres of federal land set to end this weekend
Consistent with President Trump’s rollback of several Obama-era moratoria on mining on federal lands, the Interior Department is expected to let lapse the two-year moratorium on new mining claims in several Western states.
On September 24, 2015, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed a federal administrative order withdrawing from new mining claims 10 million acres of public and National Forest System lands in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. (80 Fed. Reg. 57635-57637.) This Notice of Withdrawal was intended to protect the Greater Sage-Grouse and its habitat from new mineral exploration and mining activities. The Notice of Withdrawal was automatically set to terminate upon September 24, 2017 unless extended by additional administrative action.
The Notice of Withdrawal also directed the Bureau of Land Management to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to determine whether these lands could be withdrawn from new mining claims for 20 years or more. Despite the moratorium’s expiration date this Sunday, the Bureau of Land Management is not expected to complete its final Environmental Impact Statement until later this year.
Upon the expiration of the moratorium, mining companies may once again stake claims on previously-withdrawn land. Conservation groups have argued that the moratorium ought to stay in place until the Environmental Impact Statement is completed, though it is doubtful that Interior Secretary Zinke would issue a new moratorium. Zinke has already repealed an Obama-era moratorium on new coal-mining leases on federal land on March 2017, and is in the process of redrawing some national monument boundaries, which efforts may open up additional lands for mineral exploration.