National policy affecting the availability and use of federal lands has significant implications for whether coal and mineral resources are developed on federal lands. Although both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service have a multiple use mandate, access to federal lands for mining activities can be difficult. Given the mineral potential of federal lands, access for mining activities is critical to maintain a strong domestic mining industry.
The multiple use mandates of the Forest Service (Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960) and BLM (Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976) direct both agencies to utilize public lands to provide the best cumulative benefit for the American people. Courts have held that the Forest Service does not have the discretion to ignore its multiple use mandate to focus solely on environmental and recreational resources, and the BLM’s mandate specifically requires they recognize the Nation’s need for domestic sources of minerals.
Minerals play an invaluable role in enhancing our quality of life, growing the economy and strengthening the national security of the United States. The U.S. is home to a wealth of mineral resources, with reserves of more commodity minerals and metals than any other country.
Federal lands, which comprise nearly 700 million acres of this country’s mineral estate, play a significant role in supplying present and future mineral resource needs. Access to federal lands for mineral exploration and development is critical to maintaining a strong domestic mining industry. Most federal lands are located in 12 western states, which are the source of much of our nation’s coal and mineral endowment. As a result, national policy affecting the availability and use of federal lands for resource development has significant implications for whether or not these important resources are available to meet the nation’s needs.
Informed decisions about access to resources are critical. As global demand for minerals continues to grow exponentially and as U.S. reliance on foreign sources of minerals increase, any further closure of federal lands to mining will affect the supply of these vital materials for U.S. manufacturing and technology innovation.
Currently new mining operations are either restricted or banned on more than half of all federal lands through acts of Congress, presidential authority and administrative actions. Most of those lands were withdrawn or restricted from development before comprehensive resource inventories and economic assessments have been made.