Washington, D.C. May 10, 2018 – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, introduced the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2018 this morning, laying out Democrats’ full range of priorities for hardrock mining reforms in the 115th Congress and beyond. The bill comes on the 146th anniversary of President Ulysses S. Grant’s signing of the Mining Law of 1872, which has governed the extraction of hardrock minerals in the United States virtually unchanged since it became law.
Since 1872, mining companies have taken more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable metals from our federal public lands without paying a nickel in royalties to the American people. In that time, mining companies have purchased more than 3 million acres of highly valuable public lands for $5 an acre or less, while leaving a legacy of an estimated half-million abandoned mines that threaten public safety and pollute streams and drinking water. The Mining Law of 1872 never created a royalty for hardrock mining on public land, and Republicans in Washington and western states have resisted attempts in recent years to establish one.
The Grijalva-Lowenthal bill requires hardrock mining operations to meet some of the same requirements and standards that already apply to oil, gas, and coal development on public lands. Among other measures, the bill would:
- Eliminate the antiquated use of mining claims, and create a leasing system for hardrock mines on public lands similar to oil, gas, coal and numerous other minerals.
- Treat mining the same as other public lands uses–such as grazing, hunting, and energy development–and allow mining to be managed through existing land-use planning processes.
- Provide clear authority for federal land managers to reject a mine proposal if it would cause unacceptable damage to public lands or resources.
- Establish a 12.5 percent royalty on new mining operations–the same amount as oil and gas–and an 8 percent royalty on existing operations, with an exemption for small miners.
- Devote those royalties, as well as money raised from a per-ton fee on displaced material from mining, to the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mines across the country.
- Establish strong reclamation standards and bonding requirements to make sure the American people don’t pay to clean up after mining companies that leave or go bankrupt.
- Protect special places, such as wilderness study areas, roadless areas, and wild and scenic rivers, from mining.
“This bill closes one of our country’s oldest and most expensive corporate giveaway loopholes, and it’s decades overdue,” Rep. Grijalva said today. “There is no good reason to keep giving away our public resource like this, and there’s certainly no reason to make taxpayers pay for deadbeat companies’ cleanups. This is a chapter we need to close so we can bring the western economy into the twenty-first century.”
“Our mining laws are in desperate need of updates. They were written almost a century and a half ago, when the West was in the process of being settled,” Rep. Lowenthal said today. “The face of mining has dramatically changed since then. If the federal government is going to allow private companies to extract resources from public lands, then the American taxpayers must be compensated accordingly. Our public lands should benefit all Americans, not a select group of corporate interests taking advantage of an antiquated law. This bill would be a major first step to reforming our inadequate and failed public lands mining laws.”
In addition to Reps. Grijalva and Lowenthal, original cosponsors of the bill include Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) and Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.).
The bill is supported by a wide range of conservation groups.
“It’s been one hundred and forty-six years since Congress gave mining claims precedence over everything from recreation to hunting to conservation, and it’s well past time for a change,” said Bobby McEnaney, who leads public lands conservation efforts at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Our nation’s greatest treasures, beginning with the Grand Canyon, need to be protected from mining claims, and the most toxic mining sites need to be cleaned up. This legislation is a good start. It deserves to garner broad, bipartisan support.”
“It’s hard to believe that hardrock mining on public lands is still governed by a law written when the West was being settled and that we’re still giving away public land,” said Beth Kaeding, chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “Even worse, mining companies today still pay no royalties to taxpayers for gold, silver and other hard rock minerals that are a public resource. Congressional action to update the 1872 Mining Law is long overdue. We applaud Representative Grijalva and Representative Lowenthal for their commitment to fairness for taxpayers and cleaning up abandoned mine sites.”
“The Grijalva-Lowenthal bill would bring a nineteenth century mining law into the twenty-first century,” said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director for Earthworks. “This bill will protect drinking water for communities and money for taxpayers, balancing industrial-scale mining with other land uses, such as conservation, recreation and tourism, municipal water supplies, and renewable energy development.”