Bill Would Impose New Royalty, Protect Clean Water, Give Locals Greater Role
October 23, Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee today approved a major rewrite of the badly outdated 1872 Mining Law, setting the stage for a House floor vote later this year. The House is expected to pass the reform bill, H.R. 2262.
A dinosaur among the nation's public lands statutes, the 19th century mining law is one of the most destructive still on the books. It applies to hundreds of millions of acres of federal public lands. Although it has left a legacy of poisoned streams and abandoned mines across the West, HR 2262 would be the Mining Law's first substantial overhaul in 135 years. The 1872 Mining Law, originally intended to spur the nation's westward expansion, makes mining the “highest and best use” of public lands, allows the sale of claimed lands for $5 an acre, imposes zero federal royalties, and contains no environmental standards.
“The bill approved today would bring the 19th century mining law into the 21st century,” said Stephen D'Esposito, president of the Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Earthworks. “If the full House passes the bill as expected, we'll be halfway towards achieving badly needed reforms that work for western communities, taxpayers, the environment and responsible mining companies.”
Local elected officials from around the West, jewelry retailers, including Tiffany & Co., conservationists, and sportsmen applauded the vote as a step towards protecting clean water and restoring balance to land management decisions involving hardrock (metal) mining. (See list of western state contacts at the end of this release.)
Introduced by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Energy and Minerals Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa (D-CA), H.R. 2262 the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 would:
- Give federal land managers explicit authority to balance other public land uses such as for drinking water, recreation, hunting, fishing, and wildlife habitat when deciding whether to permit a mine.
- Prohibit mines that would cause perpetual water pollution.
- Provide a fair return to the U.S. Treasury on minerals taken from our public lands.
- Starting to fund the $50 billion cleanup of America's hundreds of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines.
- Protect core wildlife habitat, roadless national forest lands, wild and scenic rivers from irresponsible mining.
- Give local governments the ability to petition to put lands off limited to mining.
In addition, the committee approved three strengthening amendments:
- Representative Raul Grijalva's (D-AZ) amendment enables Native American tribes to petition for the withdrawal from mining of lands containing their sacred sites.
- Representative Maurice Hinchey's (D-NY) amendment ensures that existing mines, as well as new ones, pay a fair royalty to taxpayers for public minerals.
- Representative Jay Inslee's (D-WA) and Holt's (D-NJ) amendment to offer additional protections to the National parks and Monuments to assure that large-scale mining operations do not adversely affect these important natural treasures.