ELKO, Nev. (AP) -- Conservationists and tribal leaders in Nevada have joined a lawsuit challenging two U.S. mining regulations that they say provide illegal subsidies to the mining industry and result in serious damage to the environment.

The suit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. against the U.S. Interior Department and U.S. Agriculture Department now includes the Western Shoshone Defense Project and Reno-based Great Basin Resource Watch. Part of the lawsuit involves reforms that were made under the Clinton administration then reversed under the Bush administration.

"These rules read as if they were written by the mining industry, not the government regulators supposedly entrusted with the care of the public's lands," said Roger Flynn, a lawyer for the lead plaintiff, the Western Mining Action Project.

The mining industry contends the lawsuit is without merit, said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association.

One of the challenges is aimed at action taken by the Bush administration in overturning an opinion former Interior Solicitor John Leshy issued under the previous Clinton administration regarding sites for mills, waste rock dumps and tailings ponds.

The other issue is whether mines should pay fair market value to locate facilities on public land not protected by valid mining and mill-site claims.

"We believe they are wrong in their interpretation of the mining law," Skaer told the Elko Daily Free Press. "Leshy's mill-site opinion was clearly erroneous. All the Bush administration did was right that wrong."

Leshy had maintained there should be a ratio of mining claims to mill site claims that allows for construction of mills and operation facilities at a mine. His ruling limited the dumping of mine waste and mill tailings.

The coalition claims the current regulations allow mines unlimited use of public land for waste-rock dumps and tailings.

Larson Bill of South Fork, a member of the Western Shoshone Defense Project, said the mining industry is using the Bush administration regulations to "destroy the lands that hold tremendous spiritual significance for Native Americans across the West."

"The new regulations provide an illegal subsidy for these open pit mines that will cause permanent impacts to public land and in some cases leave a toxic legacy" at the expense of the hunters, hikers and native communities, added John Hadder, executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Washington, D.C.-based Earthworks, Crested Butte, Colo.-based High Country Citizens' Alliance and Save the Scenic Santa Ritas in Tucson, Ariz.


Information from: Elko Daily Free Press, http://www.elkodaily.com

Copyright 2009 The AP.

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