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Thursday, September 16, 2004

Senate Attempts to Thwart Bush Mining Fee Increase
Senate Seeks to Weaken Mine Permit Process

Washington, DC – The FY2005 Interior Appropriations bill, introduced yesterday by Interior Subcommittee Chair Conrad Burns (R-MT), includes a provision that would delay the increase in the claim maintenance fee that mining companies must pay to maintain an exclusive option to mine on public land.

The fee increase, which was written into rule by the Bush Administration this past July, would raise the fee from $100 to $125 per year. This increase was the first attempt to raise the fee since its original authorization by Congress in 1993. The claim fee, along with a $25 fee to initially stake a mining claim, are the only payment to the public for mining on public lands and are intended to cover administrative costs rather than act as a fair payment to the public. The public does not receive a royalty for the $1 billion in minerals extracted from public lands each year.

This anti-taxpayer, anti-environmental rider would also require the Department of the Interior to create a permit tracking system before the claim fee could be increased, jeopardizing an extra $5 million a year in revenue from the mining industry's use of public lands. Fee revenues pay for the administration of mining claims and enforcement of the minimal and outdated environmental regulations that govern mining on public lands.

“To keep pace with inflation, mining company employees get cost of living pay increases,” said Stephen D'Esposito, President of EARTHWORKS. “Why shouldn't mining companies pay taxpayers “cost of living” increases to process industry paperwork? Taxpayers should not have to bear yet another cost for the mining industry when companies already receive billions in gold, silver and copper for free under the 1872 Mining Law.”

EARTHWORKS supports the proposal by the Bush Administration to increase the claim maintenance fee. Today, in a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, EARTHWORKS commended the department for its proposed fee increase and its recent decision
to withdraw 111,895 acres of public lands along 192 miles of river corridor in Utah from mining.

While positive steps, these two actions once again expose the broken and outdated system that governs mining on public lands in the U.S. under the 1872 Mining Law. “We continue to tinker around the edges of a system that is broken and needs comprehensive and meaningful reform. In order to protect clean water, our public lands and taxpayers – as well for the good of the industry – the 1872 Mining Law needs to be brought into the 21st century.” said Lauren Pagel, Legislative
Coordinator for EARTHWORKS.

The creation of a permit tracking system has no relationship to the claims holding fee and should be considered on its own merits. Many in the mining industry have sought to weaken the mine permitting process and such a proposal could signal a step in that direction. The current permitting process provides some minimal safeguards and should be strengthened rather than weakened.

“According to the EPA, mining has already polluted 40% of the stream reaches of the headwaters of our western watersheds,” said Ms. Pagel. “The public deserves a rigorous permitting process to protect western water and communities.”