In his first budget since last year’s devastating Gold King Mine spill, President Obama proposes to help prevent future toxic mine spills by requiring the hardrock mining (e.g. copper, gold) industry to fund the cleanup of its old mines, just like the coal mining industry has for nearly two generations.
A Fair Return for Tax Payers
The President’s proposal requires the hardrock mining industry to pay a royalty for public minerals like the oil and gas industry, and to pay an abandoned mine reclamation fee like the coal industry. These provisions alone would raise almost $2 billion over the next decade for mine cleanup.
Charging at least a 5% gross royalty on our nation’s gold, silver, and copper will help clean up the estimated 500,000 abandoned mines across the West. Existing mines will still pay no royalties. Also under this proposal, the coal industry will no longer need to subsidize the clean up of abandoned hard rock mines. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also proposes a reclamation fee and an increase on maintenance fees for mining claims.
Royalties and reclamation fees are about fairness. They follow the simple principle that polluters should pay to clean up their mess rather than tax payers. Right now, the hardrock mining industry has delivered to Americans an estimated $50 billion tab to reclaim abandoned mines. This budget provides tax payer relief from this tremendous unfunded liability.
Moving Beyond Oil and Gas
Perhaps most notably, the President’s budget supports a $10/barrel oil tax. The budget also continues the polluters pay theme by charging the oil and gas industry $48 million in fees to hire more inspectors, the same fee structure already applied to offshore drilling. BLM also budgets $15.2 million for administration of their recent fracking and methane rules- the former remains tied up in the courts. Finally, the BLM proposes some common sense reforms to shorten lease terms, provide better enforcement, and improve revenue collections.
Making a Statement, Building a Legacy
In previous years, the President put together budget numbers he believed the Republican majority in Congress would work with. Yet inevitably, the President’s budget release was met with a collective thud on Capitol Hill. Congress controls the purse strings of government and their budget and appropriations processes run the show. Nevertheless, budgets remain the best measure of any politician’s true intentions.
This President’s proposed FY ’17 budget is more than that- it’s a legacy document. The Obama Administration budget doubles down on clean energy investment, ensures fair returns to tax payers, supports climate change adaptation, and funds land and wildlife conservation. He put his money where his mouth is and Congress ought to do the same.