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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 8 — — Today, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) introduced legislation to shift the regulation of uranium mining from the antiquated 1872 Mining Law to the Mineral Leasing Act. This change would allow uranium mining on federal lands to be managed through a competitive leasing program, as opposed to an industry-initiated claim and patent system.

Because of an increased interest in nuclear power, the price of uranium is six times what it was 10 years ago. This price increase, as well as the speculation that new nuclear power plants will come online in the US and abroad has led to an increase

All other fuels — coal, oil and gas — are governed by leasing systems, which allow the government to better protect the public's economic and environmental interests. Under the current law, uranium-mining companies pay no royalty for the minerals they take from public lands. Uranium development in the West has polluted surface and ground water and left a toxic legacy in some communities that has yet to be addressed.

“Taxpayers have been fleeced out of millions of dollars in royalties from uranium companies mining on public lands,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks Policy Director. “The Uranium Resources Stewardship Act charges a moderate 12.5% royalty on uranium, which will allow the industry to contribute to cleaning up old uranium mine sites that continue to pollute water and harm nearby communities.”

Not only do mining companies pay no royalties under the current law, but mining is considered to be the “highest and best use” of public lands, trumping recreation, hunting, fishing and other land uses. The 1872 Mining Law even allows sites sacred to Native American communities to be mined and gives tribes little recourse to stop the destruction.

“The antiquated 1872 Mining Law allows some of our most treasured places, such as the Grand Canyon, to be threatened by uranium mining,” said Pagel. “The Uranium Resources Stewardship Act will give land managers more discretion to decide where uranium mining is and is not appropriate.”

The precedent for leasing uranium already exists — some federal uranium in Colorado is already subject to leasing by the Department of Energy, a program that began late in the 1940's to ensure an adequate reserve of uranium, vanadium and associated minerals for the nation's defense program.

“We applaud Congressmen Heinrich and Lujan for their leadership on this issue and for introducing this legislation,” said Pagel. “Sacrificing communities to meet our energy needs must become a practice of the past. It is incumbent upon Congress to protect the water and public health of those communities directly affected uranium mining.”

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