A story in the June 3 editions of The Washington Post incorrectly left the impression that at the request of United States Borax & Chemical Co., Nevada Sens. Paul Laxalt (R) and Howard W. Cannon (D) had introduced legislation that would remove acreage from Death Valley National Monument that the firm wants to mine. The legislation, which would transfer control of the acreage to the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, was introduced on behalf of the El Capitan Mining Co.
The Interior Department has agreed to review an industry request that it allow new strip mining in some national parks.
The petition was the first accepted since the 1980 expiration of a moratorium on new or expanded surface mining in the six parks where mining occurs.
Interior has continued to enforce the old rules. But Tuesday, after a decision by G. Ray Arnett, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, the department published for public comment a proposal by four companies to relax the rules so they can mine new areas of Death Valley National Monument, which straddles the California-Nevada border.
An agency spokesman cautioned that there was no guarantee the agency would follow the industry language if it decides next month to rewrite the rules. However, changes probably would apply to all national parks with valid mining claims, not just to Death Valley, according to Interior officials.
According to Interior officials, about 5,000 valid mining claims exist in anywhere from 30 to 50 parks. Only about a dozen claims, though, are actually being mined. The claims are valid because the government did not acquire the subsurface rights to the land when it was purchased or redesignated as parkland.
The industry petition was filed by United States Borax & Chemical Co., Pfizer Inc., American Borate Co. and Cyprus Industrial Minerals. They want to extract talc (used in talcum powder and paints) and borates (used in cleaning agents and ceramics) from the Death Valley park.
The senators from Nevada, Paul Laxalt (R) and Howard Cannon (D), have introduced legislation that would remove from the park the lands U.S. Borax wants to mine. However, other members of Congress are concerned about new mining, and environmentalists see a new front opening in their battle with the Reagan Interior Department.
Ron Tipton of the Wilderness Society said, "We can get very active on this one." To allow new surface mining in the parks, he said, "would be a real step backward."
Tipton said the Wilderness Society had been working on the Carter administration to extend the moratorium when the Democrats lost control of the White House and the Senate in 1980.
The 1976 moratorium barred new or expanded strip mines for four years in the six parks where mines had been operating: Death Valley, Coronado (Ariz.) National Memorial, Glacier Bay (Alaska) National Park, Crater Lake (Ore.) National Park, Mount McKinley (now Denali) National Park in Alaska, and Oregon Pipe Cactus (Ariz.) National Monument. The moratorium expired in September, 1980.
M. William Tilden, who drafted the industry petition, said, "Expiration of the moratorium renders obsolete the existing regulations and mandates that the regulations be rewritten at this time."
David A. Watts, an assistant Interior solicitor, responded, "That's an interesting argument, if true. But we're not buying it."
T. Destry Jarvis, of the National Recreation and Parks Association, said that relaxing the regulations could permit gold and limestone mining in the shadows of Mount McKinley and nickel mining in Glacier Bay.
Aides to Senate Minority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Seiberling (D-Ohio), chairman of the House Interior subcommittee on public lands and national parks, said there is a good deal of opposition in both chambers to any new mining activities in parks.