House Subpoenas Interior over Mining Law Changes
Bedard, Paul, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
The House Resources Committee, seeking to force greater administration openness on environmental affairs, has issued a rare subpoena to the Interior Department for papers outlining its behind-closed-doors changes to mining laws.
The subpoena was directed to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, accused by the committee of changing mining rules without notifying the public of his move, an apparent violation of federal sunshine laws.
"We're just after the truth. What do Bruce Babbitt and the Interior Department have to hide?" asked committee Chairman Rep. Don Young, Alaska Republican.
"I'm certain that we would comply with it," an Interior spokeswoman said. Under the subpoena delivered last week, the agency has until Aug. 15 to respond.
Mr. Young's committee and the agency have been at odds over an effort by the panel to probe new but unpublicized changes in mining rules that force mine companies to post an insurance bond large enough to cover potential environmental disasters at work sites.
While the committee has not signaled its opposition to the rule changes, it is upset that the Bureau of Land Management, which is in the Interior Department, made the changes without following federal requirements that the public be able to review regulatory changes before they go into effect.
The rule changes were first proposed by the Bush administration, and then toughened by the Clinton administration before finally going into effect.
Mr. Young charged that the Clinton administration failed to abide by the Administrative Procedures Act, which demands that new or revised regulations be subjected to a public comment period.
The panel first asked for the documents on March 12. Among the documents sought, said congressional sources close to the case, are papers detailing the efforts to keep the changes secret and letters from national environmental groups urging the department to toughen the rules.
Subsequently, the mining industry filed suit to stop implementation of the new rules.
As a result, Interior Department Solicitor John Leshy said the agency would claim "attorney-client privilege" to block their release to the committee.
Mr. Leshy said the privilege claim is based on concerns the panel would release the documents to the public.
"We are prepared to provide these documents without a subpoena, if we can get assurance that they will not be funneled to the mining industry, which has sued the department. …