Memorandum Returning Without Approval a Bill Designating Certain Areas in Florida as Additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System

January 14, 1983

After careful consideration, I have determined, for the reasons stated below, to withhold my approval of H.R. 9. I regret that this action is necessary, because I support the designation of additions to the National Wilderness Preservation System in the State of Florida, as recommended by the Administration and set forth in this bill. My Administration has proposed almost two million acres of land for designation as wilderness and the unique natural habitat designated in H.R. 9 would be particularly valuable additions to the national wilderness system.

Although H.R. 9 is intended to resolve an issue that has been in contention during three prior Administrations, it does so in a way that is unnecessarily costly to the Federal taxpayer. Because of administrative actions taken earlier this week by the Secretary of the Interior, my disapproval of this legislation will not have the effect of permitting phosphate mining to proceed in the Osceola National Forest. I do not object to legislative efforts to preclude phosphate mining in the Osceola National Forest. I do object, however, to the provisions of this bill that would vest previously contingent property rights in certain mining companies. This could require the Federal government to pay those mining companies as much as $200 million for those property rights -- rights that, absent this legislation, might not otherwise have existed.

Specifically, this bill attempts to convey to several mining companies the rights to, and value from, 41 preference right lease applications for deposits of phosphates underlying the Osceola National Forest. Under present law, these mining companies are entitled to these mining leases only if the Secretary of the Interior determines that the phosphate deposits underlying this land are valuable deposits. H.R. 9 would establish property rights to the leases in specific companies by requiring the Secretary of the Interior, and ultimately the courts, to judge the lease applications without reference to the cost of compliance with current applicable statutory and regulatory requirements for environmental protection. Such requirements include those established under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. Hence, under this legislation, the determination of whether these phosphate deposits are ``valuable'' would not take into consideration the cost of returning the Osceola National Forest lands to their natural state as required by current law.

This Administration is opposed to a policy of conveying interests in public resources by waiving applicable statutory requirements that are designed to protect the environment.

Moreover, having required the mineral rights to be conveyed to the companies by the Secretary of the Interior, this bill would then prohibit mining on the leases and require the Federal government to purchase the conveyed lease rights back from the companies. Thus, the bill would, in effect, force Federal purchase of rights that under current law would remain in Federal ownership in the first place.

Analyses available to the Department of the Interior indicate that no current technology is capable of returning the mined lands to the reclamation standards required by current Federal laws and regulations. The Department of the Interior is faced with an administrative record regarding restoration that demonstrates that the applicant mining companies cannot meet the valuable deposit test required by current law for lease issuance. Consequently, the Secretary of the Interior has advised me that, based on that administrative record, mining should not now take place in the Osceola National Forest, and that he has rejected the preference right lease applications.

However, because H.R. 9 specifies a less strenuous standard than current law, the lease applicants would most likely be found to have met the valuable deposit test were this measure to become law. The Department of the Interior would then have to determine the fair market value of the interests and extend monetary credits to the lease applicants. Further, though the bill provides that the fair market value is to be determined by taking into account all environmental laws, any Secretarial action valuing these leases in a way adverse to the applicants' expectations would likely result in costly litigation, and the possible recovery in the United States Claims Court of payments to these companies for loss of their ``rights'' in public resources to which they would not be entitled absent this legislation.

The administrative decision process, necessary under current law to resolve this issue, is being brought to conclusion under my Administration. To the extent that further litigation is entered into on this issue, it should be decided under current law applicable to all similar cases.

Ronald Reagan

The White House,

January 14, 1983.