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Nine senators seek action on bill to set royalty for hardrock mining and fund abandoned mine cleanup

WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich wrote to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee leadership requesting a hearing on the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act to provide a forum for states, environmental groups, and industry to discuss mining reform.

The bill requires companies to pay royalties for the first time for the ability to extract mineral resources like gold, silver, and copper from public lands, helps ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines, and seeks to prevent another toxic spill like the Gold King Mine disaster of 2015.

There is a long history of hardrock mining corporations operating on federal public lands in New Mexico. Currently, there are dozens of active mines either in operation or in the process of getting cleaned up on public lands in the state, in addition to new mines that are actively being considered, including one in the Santa Fe National Forest near recreational areas along the Pecos River.

“Mining companies, both foreign and domestic, are governed today by a law that has changed little since the actual California Gold Rush that gave rise to the Act in the first place,” wrote the senators. “Today, this Civil War-era statute gives individuals and corporations the authority to extract minerals from public lands without owing anything in royalties to the federal government—unlike any other industry, including coal, oil, and gas.” 

“We respectfully request that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider a hearing for this important and long-overdue bill,”wrote the senators.

America’s mining laws have remained relatively untouched since they were established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. This antiquated system puts most public lands at constant risk of new mining, lets industry off the hook for toxic mine cleanup, and robs the American people of royalties from mining. Since 1872, mining companies have taken more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals from our federal public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties to the American people. The same companies have left the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs at abandoned hardrock mines, which have polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated at least 161,000 abandoned mines in the western U.S. and Alaska, and at least 33,000 of those had degraded the environment.

The bill would introduce a new royalty rate of 5 percent to 8 percent that would put hardrock mining on the same level as other mining industries, fund cleanup of abandoned mines, require permits for non-casual mining operations on federal land, allow for the petition of the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw lands from mining, and require a review of areas that may be unsafe or inappropriate for mining.

In addition to Udall and Heinrich, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

The full text of the letter is available below and HERE.

Dear Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Manchin:

We respectfully request that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider scheduling S. 1386, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, for the committee’s next available hearing date.

Mining companies, both foreign and domestic, are governed today by a law that has changed little since the actual California Gold Rush that gave rise to the Act in the first place. Today, this Civil War-era statute gives individuals and corporations the authority to extract minerals from public lands without owing anything in royalties to the federal government—unlike any other industry, including coal, oil, and gas. A hearing would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders—states, environmental groups, and industries—to come together and discuss mining reform.

This hearing request and the underlying legislation are particularly timely in light of the Administration’s proposed plan to “streamline” permitting and “improve access” to critical minerals on our public lands.  If the Administration and Congress are to consider such significant changes to mining on public lands, they must address the lack of federal royalties and reclamation fees, and find a solution for the thousands of abandoned mines releasing toxic pollution into the limited water supplies across the West.

We respectfully request that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee consider a hearing for this important and long-overdue bill.

Sincerely,

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