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For immediate release:  July 02, 2004



Washington, DC– Yesterday, the Department of the Interior announced an increase in the fee that mining companies must pay to maintain an exclusive option to mine a claim on public land – from $100 per claim per year to $125 per year. This fee, along with a $25 fee to initially stake a mining claim, are the only return the public receives for the $1 billion dollars in minerals extracted from public lands each year.

Congress, which authorized the fee in 1993, gave Interior the power to increase the fee to keep pace with inflation.  Fee revenues pay for the administration of mining claims and enforcement of environmental regulations that govern mining on public lands managed by the Interior Department.  This is the first increase of the fee since its original authorization.

Even with this increase – which generates approximately $5 million more per year than the previous fee (a total of about $27 million/year), the metal mining industry still remains one of the most subsidized industries in the United States.

“EARTHWORKS supports the fee increase, but we also support an end to billon-dollar mining industry subsidies” said Stephen D'Esposito, President of EARTHWORKS.  “This is 132 years late and billions short.  Just the cleanup of abandoned mine sites along could cost the taxpayer $72 billion.” 

Most subsidies received by the mining industry are courtesy of the 1872 Mining Law – the law that governs all metal mining on public lands.

Other extractive industries, like oil, gas and coal mining, all pay royalties, which range from 8% to 25% percent, to give the taxpayer a fair return on the valuable minerals they take from public lands. Under the 1872 Mining Law, the metal mining industry pays no such royalties on the approximately $1 billion in minerals in extracts each year.

The 1872 Mining Law also contains no environmental protection or reclamation provisions.  For more than a century, mining companies could mine as they pleased, and then abandon the mine when finished.  As a result, there are approximately 500,000 abandoned mines around the country which will cost the approximately $32-72 billion to clean up.

And taxpayer costs are still growing.  EPA has identified the metal mining industry as the nation's largest toxic polluter.  As a result, cleanup of modern mines is quite expensive — it can cost more than half a billion dollars to clean up a single modern mine.  But mining companies often don't post sufficient bond to insure that taxpayers don't pay for mine cleanup — they've left taxpayers potentially liable for $12 billion in cleanup at currently operating mines.