Today the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the 1872 Mining Law. The 150 year-old law is out of touch and out of scale with modern industrial hardrock mining, and desperately needs to be updated, according to the Biden administration. 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—$300 billion and counting since 1872— without giving taxpayers a dime for them. And unlike coal miners, hardrock miners pay no reclamation fee, leaving taxpayers a $50 billion cleanup bill for approximately 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines. The outdated law was designed to “settle” the West, in part to evict the Indigenous peoples already living there for tens of thousands of years. A century and a half later, our mining laws still privilege mining over all other uses, including the rights and perspectives of Indigenous communities.
Below is a statement from Lauren Pagel, Earthworks policy director:
“We all deserve access to safe drinking water. Environmental damage from mining leaks and spills threatens public health across the country, disproportionately in Indigenous communities. And who is stuck paying to clean up the mess? American taxpayers. We need to hold the mining industry accountable for its pollution to protect communities, save taxpayer dollars, and create mining cleanup jobs.
“We face an existential climate crisis, and must move quickly to convert our infrastructure to support low-carbon energy—but we must do so without replacing dirty oil with dirty mining. The clean energy era can avoid repeating the mistakes of the fossil fuel era by meeting the demand for minerals in the most sustainable way possible: by recycling, reusing, and extending the life of materials and products we already have. Where new mining is necessary, we must take special care to protect communities and natural resources, particularly those relied on by Indigenous peoples and protected by treaties.”