A state bill designed to shed more light on the mining industry’s prospecting activities in Colorado has passed the State Senate and is now before the Colorado House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 228 would give the public access to information that’s provided by mining companies to the State Department of Natural Resources when the companies file notices about prospecting, which is among the first steps in developing a mine. Senator Gail Schwartz (D-Snowmass Village), who represents Gunnison County, is sponsoring the bill, along with Representative Kathleen Curry (D-Gunnison). Schwartz says the bill “came directly out of the concerns we heard from the Crested Butte community… I really want to compliment the community on how active they’ve been on this issue.” Currently in Colorado, companies’ prospecting information submitted to the state is held secret—to the point that even an application that had been filed could not be released to the public. Senate Bill 228 would allow the public access to some information while still protecting items considered proprietary, such as the mineral deposit’s location, size and nature and other information. Schwartz says it’s a positive step forward. “This bill provides a level of transparency for the public where it is often not found,” Schwartz says. “People deserve to know what’s happening in their communities.” Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz agrees. “It’s a breath of fresh air to see the state take an active approach at well-needed mining reform regulation,” he says. “I commend Senator Schwartz and Representative Curry for being proactive about an issue that affects so many communities in our state.” Local environmental group High Country Citizens’ Alliance (HCCA) is also supportive of the bill. In a press release, HCCA mineral resource director Bob Salter said, “If passed SB 228 would allow for public comment and specific environmental impact evaluation of exploratory and prospecting activities that sometimes result in adverse effects to land and water resources.” In an interview this week, Salter noted that if the provisions in the bill had been passed earlier, Crested Butte might have been alerted about prospecting activities planned on Mt. Emmons by Kobex Resources Ltd. The company was a former partner in the development of a proposed molybdenum mine near Crested Butte with Wyoming-based U.S. Energy Corp. Salter said local authorities did not know about the planned exploratory activities, which included a new 5,000-foot exploratory tunnel, until Kobex Resources issued a press release stating that the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety had approved its plans. The drift would be used by project engineers to collect core samples from the ore deposit. HCCA filed an appeal with the mining agency and the appeal is still pending. Salter says the circumstances are an excellent illustration of why Senate Bill 228 is needed. “Right now, we’re fundamentally locked out of the exploratory permit process,” he says. “Under current law and regulation, everything under an exploratory permit is considered proprietary. This would open it up considerably.” The bill was passed by the Senate on April 28. It is scheduled to be considered by the House Agriculture, Livestock, & Natural Resources committee, which Curry chairs, on Wednesday, April 30. Curry could not be reached by press-time to comment for this article.