July 10, 2014, Washington, D.C. – U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (OR-4) and Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Ranking Member Raul Grijalva today introduced a long-needed overhaul of the 142-year-old law governing mining of minerals such as gold, copper and uranium on federally-managed public lands.
“This bill is a win-win for taxpayers and the environment,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks. “This outdated relic of a law costs Americans billions and puts our water at risk.”
The 1872 Mining Law was signed into law by President Ulysses Grant. Originally intended to spur the nation’s westward expansion, the 19th century statute still governs the extraction of hardrock minerals on over 350 million acres of public lands in the western United States. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act would:
- Charge a royalty on minerals extracted from public lands. Unlike all 50 states and private landowners in the US, taxpayers charge no royalties for minerals. More than $300 billion worth have been given away since 1872.
- Allow mining to be balanced with other uses of public lands. Currently land managers believe the law requires them to permit mines, even if the land is better used for another purpose – like protecting Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Parks.
- Protect our clean water by prohibiting mines that would generate water pollution in perpetuity. The current law contains no environmental provisions, even though the EPA has identified mining as the nation’s biggest toxic polluter. Research has found that over 75% of modern mines have polluted rivers, streams and groundwater, and an increasing number of mines will result in water pollution that lasts for hundreds to thousands of years or “in perpetuity.”
- Create over 10,000 jobs by funding the cleanup of the hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines. Unlike coal, hardrock mining has no cleanup fund. EPA estimates abandoned mine cleanup could cost $50 billion.
- End public land giveaways. The Mining Law allows private interests to purchase mineral bearing public lands for no more than $5/acre (although a moratorium on this process, known as patenting, has been annually renewed since 1994).
“This bill would bring the 19th century mining law into the 21st century, and help the economy in the process,” said Earthworks executive director Jennifer Krill. “The 1872 Mining Law reform is a win-win for both jobs and the environment, and ensures that taxpayers start getting a fair deal instead of giving away our minerals for free.”
“There are some places that simply shouldn’t be mined,” said Mary Costello of the Rock Creek Alliance, a citizen’s group fighting to protect a Montana wilderness area from a proposed mine that the permitting agencies say could generate water pollution forever. She continued, “We need a mining law that lets us safeguard a major watershed that is absolutely vital to our local economy, while protecting the spectacular public lands that are a part of our nation’s wilderness system. This bill does that.”
“I am grateful that Congressman DeFazio is taking leadership to reform our country’s outdated mining laws,” said Ann Vileisis of the Kalmiopsis Audubon Society, a group working to protect the headwaters of National Wild and Scenic Rogue and Smith rivers from the threat of nickel strip mining. “Many of us were outraged to learn how little public lands agencies can do to protect our clean water and salmon runs because the outmoded mining law makes mining the highest use for public lands. Now, it’s rigged to give mining companies a big advantage, but local communities will be left to deal with the pollution.”