Mining Reform Bill Introduced on Anniversary of Infamous 1872 Law

Grijalva-Lowenthal proposal would bring U.S. mining law into the 21st Century

Washington, D.C. – House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) today introduced the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2018, which would give Americans more choices in how our public lands agencies balance hardrock mining with other land uses. The bill 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 . Today’s introduction coincides with the 146th birthday of the 1872 law, and an aggressive mining industry push to further erode already flimsy environmental and community protections against the impacts of hardrock mining.

“Representatives Grijalva and Lowenthal’s bill would bring 19th century mining law into the 21st century,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ Policy Director. “It would bring badly needed reforms that work for western communities, taxpayers, the environment, and responsible mining companies.”

Unlike all other land uses, the 1872 law in practice makes mining the highest and best use. If a mining company discovers valuable minerals on public domain lands, land managers interpret the law as to given them no choice but to permit mining, no matter if the land is better used for recreation, conservation, renewable energy, or even fossil fuel extraction.

Also unlike other extractive industries, under the 1872 law, mining companies pay no royalties. Whoever stakes a claim and discovers valuable minerals on public lands claims those riches — more than $300 billion and counting since 1872 — without giving taxpayers a dime for them.

The 1872 law also 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 $20-$54 billion — vastly more than the entire annual Superfund budget.

Grijalva & Lowenthal’s bill would update the mining law by addressing those issues and:

  • Allow land managers to balance other public land uses such as recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat conservation with hardrock mining.
  • 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 fund for the $50 billion clean up bill for 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 areas of critical environmental concern from irresponsible mining.
  • For all but existing producing claims, replace mining claims with a leasing system similar to that used for oil, gas and coal mining on public lands.

“The Grijalva-Lowenthal bill would give public land owners — all Americans — a choice when mining is proposed on their land,” said Pagel. “Under the 1872 law, we have no choice because mining is prioritized over every other land use. Reform must focus on protecting communities and the environment by balancing industrial scale mining with other land uses, such as conservation, recreation and tourism, drinking water supplies, and renewable energy development.”

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.


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