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Closing a Hardrock Mine—Can You Ever Walk Away?

Gregory P. Williams, Proceedings of 39th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1993)

Mined land reclamation programs are not new. Several states have required the reclamation of lands disturbed by mining since the early 1970's, and today all the western states except Arizona have mined land reclamation statutes. The Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs also have regulations requiring reclamation of mined lands. Historically, the focus of such programs has been to require the stabilization and reclamation of disturbed surface areas, the removal of obvious safety hazards, and a financing mechanism to ensure that funds will be available to enable a government agency to reclaim if the operator does not. There is, or at least has been, a comforting degree of stability and predictability about existing federal and state mined land reclamation programs for hardrock mines.

Neither are the major environmental laws new. The present framework for the Clean Water Act was established in 1972, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was enacted in 1976, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act in 1980. Although few would accuse the resulting environmental regulatory programs of either stability [10-3] or predictability, operators of hardrock mines have been obtaining permits and operating under those programs for years. Generally, though, the mined land reclamation programs and