Your editorial on our report, "States' Rights, Miners' Wrongs," demonstrated all too well why a national baseline of mining standards is needed. Although you charged us with both errors and arrogance, it was the statements of local officials and the reporting of a local news organization ("Utah officials return fire at Washington think tank," Deseret News, August 27) which were in error.
Our report, "States' Rights, Miners' Wrongs," cited the February 1992 spill at American Barrick Resource's Mercur Mine of 250,000 gallons of cyanide-contaminated water from a pond which should have held only clean water as one in a series of "leaks, spills and unauthorized actions" which have occurred at the site. The report documented other incidents in both 1986 and 1990 which demonstrate how the state prefers to regulate mines with a tap on the wrist.There is publicly available documentation on each incident. It requires an enormous leap of faith and logic to see that spill and the pattern it represents as merely "unfortunate."
You charge that we exaggerate the situation at the Bingham Canyon Mine. No one would dispute that the plume of contaminated groundwater covers roughly 50 square miles under the homes of 70,000 people. EPA says it could cost as much as $2.2 billion to clean up while Kennecott reportedly favors a $12 million plan.
"With the current proposal, in exchange for monetary recovery of $12 million, Utah agreed to release Kennecott from all damages to surface or groundwater in a defined mining impact area, and injunctive relief or response costs associated with plume remediation." That is how the three-judge Federal Court of Appeals characterized the agreement on Bingham Canyon. And both the district and appellate courts found the damages to far exceed $12 million.
We urge your reporters to speak with officials and customers of the Salt Lake County Water Conservancy District which challenged the agreement. They live with the plume and its effects every day. Your readers should know that original agreement negotiated by the state said nothing about preventing future damage by requiring the mine's operators to stop the sources of contamination.
Mineral Policy Center supports federal baseline standards to be applied to mining operations on federally owned lands. As our report said, we believe the states, including Utah, should be "allowed a joint role with the federal government in administering and enforcing a new mining law, so long as the federal government continues to maintain its dominant regulatory role."
After 122 years, Congress is at the point of updating the General Mining Law of 1872 that governs mining on public lands. Those lands are owned by all Americans. They should be protected by consistent regulatory and environmental performance standards.
Philip M. Hocker
Mineral Policy Center, Washington, D.C.