Hardrock Mining Reform Legislation Introduced to Modernize Mining Royalties, Address Taxpayer-Funded Mine Cleanups

WASHINGTON, D.C. May 9, 2019 – At a recently concluded Capitol Hill press conference this morning, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), announced the introduction of their House and Senate mining reform bills to modernize the nation’s badly antiquated hardrock mining laws. Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chair Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), an original cosponsor of the House bill, and multiple conservation and business advocates spoke in favor the legislation.

The full text of Grijalva’s H.R. 2579 Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 is available at https://bit.ly/2J9U7PS. The full text of Udall’s Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act is available at https://bit.ly/2V9Icmx.

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An explanatory summary of H.R. 2579 is available at https://bit.ly/2PX59bF.

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.

Chair Grijalva’s 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 House bill would:

  • End the outdated claim-staking and patenting system that gives miners unfettered access to nearly all public land in the United States.
  • Establish an 12.5% royalty on new mining operations–the same amount as oil and gas– and an 8% royalty on existing operations, except for miners with less than $50,000 in mining income.
  • Require meaningful tribal consultation.
  • Eliminate the exalted status that mining currently enjoys on public lands, leveling the playing field with all other uses of public lands–such as grazing, hunting, and energy development–allowing it to be managed through existing land-use planning processes.
  • Make certain special lands off-limits to hardrock mining.
  • Require mining operators to report data on the amount and value of minerals being extracted from public lands.
  • Establish strong reclamation standards and bonding requirements.
  • Create a fund to reclaim and restore abandoned mines and areas impacted by mining activities.

“Our public lands, watersheds, and treasured landscapes belong to the American people, not polluters who don’t always cover their own cleanup costs,” Grijalva said today. “Sweetheart deals for the mining industry come at a heavy cost for communities and taxpayers across the country. There’s no good reason to keep giving away our public resources like this, and there’s certainly no reason to make taxpayers pay for deadbeat companies’ cleanups. It’s time to put people over polluters and bring our natural resources economy into the twenty-first century.”

“If mining companies want to profit from the American people’s public land, then they need to pay their fair share and clean up the mess they leave behind,” said Udall. “But since 1872 – for 147 years – the hardrock mining industry has enjoyed an outrageous sweetheart deal, unlike any other industry, where the mining companies get the gold and the taxpayer gets the shaft. Hardrock mining conglomerates – many of them foreign-owned with billionaire investors – are looting our public lands, and our gold, silver and copper, without paying the American people a dime for the privilege. And meanwhile, their abandoned mines are polluting our environment with 50 million gallons of toxic wastewater a day and leaving American taxpayers with a cleanup bill to the tune of $50 billion. I’ve been fighting for mining reform for years – and after nearly 150 years, it’s well past time for our mining laws to change.”

“To say that our current mining laws are antiquated is an understatement.  Today’s mines are overseen and regulated by laws that were adopted 147 years ago,” said Lowenthal. “This legislation provides desperately needed updates to bring mining laws into, not only the last century – but this one. Our public lands should benefit all Americans, not a select group of corporate interests taking advantage of an antiquated law. Mining reform must focus on bringing revenues to taxpayers and protecting the American people from the costs of reclaiming abandoned mines.”

In addition to Chair Grijalva and Subcommittee Chair Lowenthal, original cosponsors of the House bill include Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

Original cosponsors of Senator Udall’s bill include U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

The bill is supported by a wide range of conservation groups.

“American taxpayers will see the benefits when the antiquated 1872 Mining Law is replaced by the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019,” said Linda Weiss, Board Chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “The House bill would transition the archaic law to a leasing system resembling that for industries such as oil, gas, and coal. Gold, silver and other hardrock minerals currently yield no royalties, but that can change. Abandoned sites can be cleaned up; special lands can be off-limits; and taxpayers won’t be shafted.”

“The outdated 1872 Mining Law allows foreign companies to use and abuse American public lands for free,” said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks’ Policy Director. “Chair Grijalva’s bill would end this public wealth giveaway, hold polluters accountable for their messes, and protect our families and environment from toxic mine pollution.”

“One hundred and forty-seven years ago this week, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Act of 1872 into law with the goal of encouraging Westward expansion. From rivers running orange with heavy metals and toxic sediment to devastating pollution poisoning our public lands, local communities and wildlife, we’ve experienced the environmental and economic repercussions of failing to update this outrageously outdated law for decades,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Chairman Grijalva and Senator Udall’s efforts to reform this antiquated law will help restore our public lands by cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines and ensuring that modern mining activities reduce their impacts on our national treasures for the communities and wildlife that depend upon them.”

“It can take centuries to clean up toxic mine pollution – it shouldn’t take centuries to reform our mining laws.” said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice. “Chairman Grijalva, Representative Lowenthal and their colleagues deserve our thanks for taking an important step to reform the 1872 mining law and ensure that mining companies, not taxpayers, bear the burden for the destruction hardrock mining causes.”

The House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Hearing on Chair Grijalva’s mining reform legislation commenced immediately following the press conference. Livestream is available at http://bit.ly/2DTwGGh.