BLM Mining Violations
Violations of U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Mining Requirements Can Lead to Substantial Penalties
The ability for private citizens and businesses to mine on public land dates back to the enactment of the federal Mining Law of 1872. However, this ability is subject to several limitations and restrictions, and violations of these limitations and restrictions can lead to substantial penalties.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the primary agency responsible for overseeing mining operations on federal public lands. Along with the Mining Law of 1872, BLM also enforces the Surface Resources Act of 1955, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and a variety of other federal laws and regulations. While navigating the web of BLM mining compliance obligations is difficult, BLM expects all miners to comply, and those that do not can face enforcement actions for BLM mining violations.
Experienced Federal Defense Lawyers for BLM Mining Violations
At Oberheiden P.C., we defend miners facing allegations of BLM mining violations. We provide representation during BLM inspections in the field, follow-up investigations, and enforcement proceedings. Our team includes federal defense lawyers and former federal prosecutors with centuries of combined experience, and we have a proven track record of successfully defending clients in administrative, civil, and criminal federal cases.
Common BLM Mining Violations
The Bureau of Land Management imposes penalties and works with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to pursue prosecution for a wide range of mining violations. This includes common BLM mining violations such as:
Mining on BLM Land Without Recording a Mining Claim or Site
Pursuant to the FLPMA, miners must record all claims and sites “with the proper BLM state office within 90 days of the date of location and recorded with the proper county in accordance with their requirements.” Operating an unrecorded mining operation on BLM land is a violation of federal law. Once a miner records a mining claim or site, the miner must operate within the geographical bounds of the recorded site—or else record an additional claim or secure a transfer prior to expanding.
Mining on Federal Land Adjacent to a BLM-Approved Claim or Site
The BLM is one of several federal agencies that operate and oversee federal lands. In many areas, BLM lands are adjacent to lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS), National Forest Service (NFS), or other federal agencies.
When a miner obtains a permit from the BLM, this approval does not extend to any adjacent non-BLM lands. As the BLM explains, “BLM is not required by any regulation or policy to wait for an outside agency, such as NPS or the Forest Service, to approve its permit before BLM may issue a decision on a proposed plan. . . . Issuing a decision approving a plan does not authorize the initiation of mining operations if the operator has not yet complied with all other Federal and State laws related to environmental protection, including obtaining any necessary authorizations or permits.”
Non-Payment of Royalties to BLM
As the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) explains, the BLM’s Mining Law Administrative Program (MLAP) “is responsible for managing the environmentally responsible exploration and development of locatable minerals on public lands. The MLAP “is funded [in part] through mining fees collected from the holders of unpatented mining claims and sites.”
Nonpayment of mining fees, or royalties, to the BLM is also a common mining violation. This includes both (i) failing to remit any payment to the BLM, and (ii) improperly calculating the amount of royalties owed based on the minerals mined at a permitted site on BLM land.
Mining for Unauthorized Minerals
When the BLM issues a permit to mine on federal public land within its jurisdiction, this permit is specific to the type of mineral (or minerals) for which the permit is recorded. Mining for unauthorized minerals is a common BLM violation as well. Authorized mining operations will generally fall into one of four broad categories:
- Locatable hardrock minerals
- Leasable hardrock minerals
- Non-energy solid minerals
But, within each of these categories, miners may be subject to further restrictions on the minerals they are able to mine as well. These include restrictions on mining gold, silver, copper, phosphate, sodium, and other minerals.
Conducting Other Unauthorized Activities on BLM Mining Sites
In addition to conducting unauthorized mining activities on BLM land, miners can face administrative, civil, or criminal enforcement action for conducting various other unauthorized activities as well. This includes activities such as:
- Constructing and managing unauthorized residential sites
- Non-mining commercial operations
- Speculative activities not related to authorized mining activities
- Improper disposal of hazardous waste and other environmental law violations
- Causing unnecessary damage or improperly blocking access to federal lands
BLM mining permits are specific to the activity for which they are recorded. Generally, conducting other commercial activities on permitted land is prohibited. When the BLM conducts inspections in the field, any evidence of non-mining commercial activities is almost certain to lead to additional scrutiny and exposure to potential penalties.
Other Federal Violations Related to BLM Mining Operations
Along with unauthorized activities, the BLM pursues enforcement actions related to other federal violations as well. Oftentimes, the BLM will work alongside other federal authorities to target these prohibited activities. This includes working alongside U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USA), and other authorities to target:
- Immigration law violations
- Organized crime and racketeering violations (RICO violations)
- Public investment scams
- Federal tax law violations
- Money laundering, fraud, conspiracy, and other federal crimes
Regardless of the specific allegations at issue, facing a BLM inspection or investigation is a serious matter that requires immediate attention. Companies and individuals targeted in these inquiries should engage experienced defense counsel promptly, and they should work closely with their defense counsel to build and execute strategic defenses focused on avoiding termination of their BLM mining permits, fines, and other penalties.
FAQs: Defending Against Allegations of BLM Mining Violations and Related Offenses
Does the Mining Law of 1872 Still Govern Private Mining on Public Lands?
Yes, while it is now 150 years old, the Mining Law of 1872 remains in effect today. While the Mining Law of 1872 remains relatively unchanged, it has been amended and supplemented by various subsequent federal laws and regulations. As a result, while this law is the starting point for individuals and entities seeking to navigate BLM mining compliance, it is now just one of several sources of federal authority that prospective miners need to consider.
Are All BLM Lands Eligible for Mining Permits?
No, the BLM has designated certain lands as “closed” to private mining. Congress and other federal agencies can close public lands to private mining for various reasons as well. Additionally, as BLM mining permits are generally exclusive, once land has been leased, it is typically unavailable until either: (i) the lease ends, (ii) the miner’s permit is revoked, or (iii) the mining claim or site on the land is deemed abandoned.
What Agencies Oversee Mining on Public Lands Along with the BLM?
In addition to with the BLM, the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) also has oversight of mining on public lands and enforces federal surface mining laws, and the NPS and NFS have authority to issue (or deny) permits for mining on non-BLM public lands. As a result, when facing potential penalties for BLM mining violations, miners must be cognizant of the risk of facing penalties imposed by other federal authorities as well.
How Do I Check the Status of My Mining Claim on BLM Land?
If you are facing a BLM inspection or investigation and are unaware of the current status of your mining claim, you can check the status of your claim through the BLM’s Mineral & Land Records System (MLRS). Alternatively, you can engage legal counsel to evaluate the status of your current mining claim on your behalf. When facing a BLM inspection or investigation, confirming the status of your mining claim is an important first step toward building an effective defense strategy.
What Environmental Restrictions Apply to Mining on BLM Land?
Generally, the environmental compliance obligations that apply to mining operations on private land also apply to mining operations on BLM land. This means that mining operations must comply with the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and all other pertinent federal laws and regulations.
Along with environmental compliance, mining operations on BLM lands must satisfy all other applicable compliance obligations as well. If BLM inspectors uncover evidence of violations not related specifically to mining compliance, they may hand over evidence obtained during their inspections to other federal agencies for further investigation. As a result, when facing BLM scrutiny, miners must address not only the risk of facing BLM enforcement action, but the risk of facing enforcement action from other federal agencies as well.
Speak with a Federal Defense Lawyer at Oberheiden P.C.
If you have questions about dealing with the BLM (or any other federal agency) related to mining operations on federal lands, we invite you to contact us for more information. To speak with a senior federal defense lawyer at Oberheiden P.C. in confidence, please call 888-680-1745 or request a complimentary consultation online today.
Dr. Nick Oberheiden, founder of Oberheiden P.C., focuses his litigation practice on white-collar criminal defense, government investigations, SEC & FCPA enforcement, and commercial litigation.