AP: Myers reversing sacred site protection
Facebook Twitter Email

Although he told a Senate panel that approved his nomination he had no "agenda" on decisions made by the Clinton administration, the Department of Interior's top legal official will reverse an opinion that prevented the development of a gold mine on sacred lands in California, reports the Associated Press today.

Former Solicitor John Leshy's opinion was legally flawed, a department official told the AP. So Bill Myers, appointed by President Bush in March and sworn in to his position in July, will issue a new one that would pave the way for approval of the mine, the official added.

The forthcoming decision is likely to confirm the worst fears of environmentalists who have criticized Bush's picks at the Interior. It will also add to an already negative record for Myers on Indian issues -- in just three months on the job, he has drawn barbs for his handling of the trust fund debacle by department managers and a federal court.

But to the Quechan Tribe of Arizona, approval of the mine would be costly to its culture. The tribe, located near the California border, considers land the proposed mine sacred and has long fought to prevent development.

"No amount of gold, whatever they pay, whatever it costs, will take the place of history," said President Mike Jackson when the mine was rejected. "History was saved."

After earlier assessments concluded the 1,571-acre, open pit, cyanide heap leach project would not have a negative impact, former Secretary Bruce Babbitt in January denied the mine. In doing so, he followed the recommendation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and said the mine would cause "unavoidable adverse impacts" to rock carvings, trails, cleared circles and other features the tribe wants protected.

Glamis Corp., a Nevada company that already operates another mine just miles away from the denied Imperial County proposal, naturally disagreed. The company blamed Babbitt's decision on Leshy's December 1999 opinion, saying it "creates new standards" that give the BLM "veto authority on any project at odds with Native American cultural or religious concerns."

Pressured with a lawsuit by Glamis, Myers is now poised to rescind the opinion, which Babbitt approved in January 2000. The opinion stated the BLM could reject the mine by taking into account President Clinton's executive order on American Indian religious freedom, federal law and the recommendations of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent government agency that opposed development.

During his confirmation hearing, Myers told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in June he didn't intend to reverse any decisions made by any of his predecessors. "I have no agenda of systematically reviewing individual opinions to see whether they are good, bad or otherwise," he said.

But he added: "I know that certain members of this committee . . . have interest in [certain] opinions. We'll take a look at them as the case should arise."

Once Myers issues the opinion, Secretary Gale Norton would have to approve it. According to the AP, Norton wants Congress to take a look at federal laws which Babbitt had used to close mining on sacred sites in Arizona and elsewhere.

During her confirmation proceedings, Norton was asked for her view of mining laws by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), to which Norton had no specific response. Additionally, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) asked directly about the Glamis mine and again, Norton only said she would work with Boxer on the issue.

"She will make decisions regarding . . . American Indian tribal concerns that will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences," said Boxer on the Senate floor in January. "When I asked her if she would uphold the Bureau of Land Management's important decision to deny a permit to a gold mine which everyone agrees would destroy Native American land . . . she basically passed on an answer."

The Interior officials who spoke to the AP did so only on the condition of anonymity.

Get the Story:
New Mining Rules Reverse Provisions (AP 10/25)

Get the Leshy Opinion:
M-36999: Regulation of Hardrock Mining (December 27, 1999)

Get the Babbitt Decision:
Record of Decision for the Imperial Project Gold Mine Proposal Imperial County, California (January 2001)

Indianz.Com Profile:
Solicitor: Bill G. Myers (3/30)

Relevant Links:
Office of the Solicitor -
Glamis -
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation -

Related Stories:
Bush nominee has no 'agenda' on Clinton decisions (6/21)
Norton confirmed by 'landslide' (1/31)
Babbitt denies Calif. gold mine (1/19)
BLM recommends mine rejection (11/10)