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New government report details lack of transparency, data

Washington, DC – A new Government Accountability Office report to Congress reveals that American taxpayers annually give away to mining companies unknown billions in hardrock minerals like gold, copper and uranium. Because the law does not allow taxpayers to charge a royalty for hardrock minerals taken from publicly owned lands, the Interior Department collects no data on their value.  In 2011, Interior estimated their sales value at $6.4 billion

“As our country teeters on the fiscal cliff, it is ridiculous that taxpayers are giving away unknown amounts of valuable gold, copper and other metals to mining companies each year,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ Policy Director. “One of the first belt-tightening measures should be to eliminate the enormous subsidies taxpayers give away to polluting oil, gas, and mining companies.”

The GAO report, requested by Congressman Grijalva (AZ) and Senator Tom Udall (NM), details just this one subsidy to the multinational hardrock mining industry. Beyond not requiring a royalty, taxpayers also subsidize hardrock mining companies with major loopholes in federal environmental law, tax breaks, and avoided clean-up liability for hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines. According to industry-reported data from the U.S. EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, hardrock mining is the nation’s #1 toxic polluter.

“If hardrock mining companies had to play by the same rules as everyone else and pay their fair share, we could reduce our deficit by $14 billion over the next 10 years, and create jobs that clean up our rivers and protect our communities’ health,” said Pagel. She continued, “Add in the subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies that President Obama has pushed to eliminate, and that number jumps to over $50 billion over 10 years.”

The Department of Interior soon will convene stakeholders to participate in the Extraction Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), a consensus driven process designed to shed light on the royalties and other payments oil, gas, and mining companies pay. 

“Thanks to the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, not only are taxpayers being fleeced out of billions, the government doesn’t even know exactly how much the fleecing is worth,” said Pagel. “In addition to reforming the outdated 1872 Mining Law, we need transparency around these issues.”