Environmental Groups Voice Support for Mining Law Reform

House Natural Resources Committee passes overdue 1872 Mining Act reform legislation

Washington – Today, the House Natural Resources Committee approved Chairman Raul Grijalva’s (D-AZ) and Congressman Lowenthal’s (D-CA) Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 by a vote of 21-13. The legislation would replace the 1872 General Mining Law, which still governs mining for gold, copper, uranium and other hardrock minerals on publicly-owned lands managed by the federal government.

The EPA reports the mining industry is the nation’s largest toxic polluter. According to the Associated Press, every day hardrock mines collectively produce around 50 million gallons of contaminated water, threatening water supplies of downstream communities. The 1872 law does not charge a fee for abandoned mine cleanup, the cost of which often falls to taxpayers. The EPA estimates the backlog of cleanup costs for these mines at upwards of $50 billion. And unlike other extractive industries, under the 1872 law, mining companies pay no royalties. Over $300 billion in mineral wealth has been extracted from public lands without a dime going to taxpayers.

The Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 would:

  • Allow land managers to balance other public land uses such as recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat conservation with hardrock mining. The 1872 law treats mining as the highest and best use of public land.
  • Prohibit mines that would pollute water in perpetuity.
  • Provide a fair return to the U.S. Treasury on minerals taken from public lands.
  • Start a “polluters pay” dedicated reclamation fund to clean up the hundreds of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines that litter our public lands.
  • Protect National Monuments, National Parks, Wilderness Study Areas, Roadless Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other natural heritage sites from irresponsible mining.

The need for reform grows more pressing with each passing year.  Some of the most abundant deposits remain harder-to-reach and more wasteful, posing a greater risk to local communities and the water they depend upon.

Below are statements from five environmental organizations.

“It can take centuries to clean up toxic mine pollution – it shouldn’t take centuries to reform our mining laws. Chairman Grijalva, Representative Lowenthal and their colleagues deserve our thanks for taking an important step to reform the 1872 mining law and ensure that mining companies, not taxpayers, bear the burden for the destruction hardrock mining causes to our lands, clean water and air.” —Martin Hayden, vice president of policy and legislation at Earthjustice

“Our nation’s ridiculously outdated mining law was written in the era of wagon trains and before toxic mining contamination riddled the United States. It’s long past time for Congress to fix a law that allows reckless pollution, leaves taxpayers holding the bill, and endangers priceless American lands. We thank Chairman Grijalva for leading this charge and standing up against mining that threatens spectacular landscapes like Bears Ears and the Grand Canyon.” —Drew McConville, senior managing director at The Wilderness Society

“Under the current mining law, foreign companies dig millions in riches out of the ground and leave American taxpayers to pay to clean up their messes. We applaud Chairmen Grijalva and Lowenthal for advancing the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act. It’s time to hold polluters accountable, save taxpayer dollars and preserve our iconic public lands.” —Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks

“Like many Western states, Colorado has been left with a hardrock legacy of acid mine drainage, polluted headwaters, and a landscape dotted with abandoned mines. Millions of gallons of contaminated water flow daily out of old hardrock mining sites. The necessary reforms this legislation encompasses are long overdue, and greatly needed to tackle reclamation needs, protect our special places, and hold the industry accountable rather than leaving the burden on the American taxpayer.” –-Leslie Robinson, chair at Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, Colorado

“This dangerous, antiquated mining law has allowed private companies to use and abuse our public lands for free since Ulysses S. Grant was president. These sensible reforms will end corporate giveaways, hold polluters accountable for their toxic pollution and help protect important public lands. It will bring an end to generations of unfettered mining abuses that have allowed companies to pollute our waters in perpetuity, harming wildlife and communities.” —Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity.