It’s Time for the Feds to Update Mining Regs

Today Earthworks, along with Indigenous allies and other environmental organizations, submitted a petition to the Department of the Interior asking the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to update its hardrock mining rules. 

Hardrock mining in the United States has a decidedly racist history: the 1872 Mining Law, which was passed one year after the government stopped making treaties with Indigenous peoples, was created to encourage colonization and settlement of what’s now called the western United States. In the 150 years since it has never been meaningfully updated, meaning that mining companies can still stake claims on any federal land, and operators do not have to pay royalties nor reclamation fees. As California Representative Katie Porter pointed out during a House hearing on mining, the modern mining industry has “a sweetheart deal.”  

The BLM hardrock mining rules, which implement the 1872 Mining Law, cover most of what is now called the western United States—land that was conquered and colonized by Europeans and Americans who killed and displaced any Indigenous peoples who stood in their way.

This petition represents an incredible opportunity for the Biden administration, especially since Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is an Indigenous woman: by updating the BLM’s hardrock mining rules, the administration can affirm the rights of Indigenous and other mining-affected communities. They can protect marginalized peoples, crucial natural resources, and sacred places without jeopardizing the essential transition to renewable energy. Research from the Institute for Sustainable Futures has shown that recycling can reduce primary demand, compared to total demand in 2040, by approximately 25% for lithium, 35% for cobalt and nickel and 55% for copper. 

Our petition does not solve every problem of hardrock mining on federal lands, nor does it undo the damage the mining industry has caused and continues to cause, but it has the potential to do real good for lots of people, and sets the stage for a more just future for Indigenous and other mining-affected communities. The Biden administration has a choice: protect the people it is sworn to and the environments they depend on, or protect the profits of corporations that cause unfathomable harm to massive swaths of the world.