The imminent closing of the U. S. Bureau of Mines (USBM) as a cost-cutting measure will curtail research in mine safety and put a stop to some environmentally oriented studies, agency officials say.
"We worry that the science that goes to make a sound base for government regulation may not be there or be sufficient when it's needed," says Dave Brown of USBM in Washington, D. C.
As the 3 months that Congress set for dismantling USBM draw to a close on Jan. 8, some of the agency's research functions are resurfacing elsewhere. These functions have been trimmed to fit a $40 million allotment, a far cry from USBM's original $84 million research request.
The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to carry on with USBM studies to ensure the health and safety of miners, though with considerably reduced funding. Safety studies include examinations of how the geology of a site affects earth movement. DOE also intends to pick up the studies on rock characteristics. Such work led in the past to robotic rock sensors that keep drills centered in coal seams and reduce the need for workers in dangerous drilling areas.
A program in materials research, with funding reduced from $8 million to $3 million, is also transferring to DOE. The program's aims include ways to improve the durability of steel and concrete.
The U. S. Geological Survey plans to take over about half of a USBM information program on the supply of 100 minerals worldwide, while a remnant of an ongoing inventory of minerals on public lands continues in Alaska under the Bureau of Land Management.
No agency is assuming the research aimed at developing cost-effective techniques for extracting small amounts of metal-methods useful both in mining operation and environmental cleanup. …