November 05, 2015

Wyden, Udall, Heinrich, Bennet, Markey Introduce Bill to Ensure Hardrock Mining Companies Pay Their Fair Share

Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act will reform the antiquated 1872 mining law, help prevent future disasters

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Tom Udall, D-N.M.Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., introduced legislation to reform the nation's antiquated hardrock mining laws. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 will ensure mining companies pay royalties for the privilege of extracting mineral resources from public lands.

The bill helps ensure that taxpayers aren't on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines, many of which are continuously leaking toxic chemicals into rivers and streams and have the potential for catastrophic disasters. Oregon has almost 700 abandoned mine lands, according to the Oregon Bureau of Land Management, and some of those could pose safety and environmental risks.

“Hardrock mining companies ought to pay for using public lands, just as other companies do,” Wyden said. “This legislation will end the free ride these companies have enjoyed for far too long and jump-start the cleanup process to ensure abandoned mines in Oregon and across the country no longer threaten public safety and the environment.”

Current mining law dates back to 1872 and allows companies to take gold, silver, copper, uranium and other minerals from public land without paying any royalties. The lawmakers’ bill would impose a common-sense royalty — similar to that paid by oil and gas and coal companies for decades — to help pay for abandoned mine cleanup and prevent future disasters. There are up to 500,000 abandoned mines across the West, and cleanup is estimated to cost tens of billions of dollars.

“Hardrock mining companies have enjoyed a sweetheart deal for nearly 150 years, leaving taxpayers on the hook to clean up hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines leaking toxins and threatening communities across the West,” Udall said. “The Gold King Mine blowout proves that the status quo just isn’t working, and New Mexico and Navajo Nation communities are suffering the consequences. Gold and silver on public lands are a natural resource, just like oil and gas. Taxpayers deserve their fair share of the profit — and communities across the West need that money to clean up abandoned mines.” 

“Disastrous spills like the Gold King Mine blowout are easy to see. But the unnoticed toxins leaking out of thousands of abandoned gold, silver, copper, and uranium mines are doing enormous damage to our watersheds every day,” Heinrich said. “We must come together and pass commonsense reforms to our outdated and ineffective federal policy on abandoned mines and hardrock mining.”

“Three months ago, the Gold King Mine spill provided a sudden and devastating reminder of the dangers that abandoned mines pose in Colorado and across the West,” Bennet said. “Mining has been intrinsically linked to our history, economy, development and culture, but it’s also left scars across Colorado and other states. More than 200 mines in Colorado are leaking acid mine drainage that is polluting headwaters and affecting water quality for communities downstream. Our bill will help clean up these mines and prevent the possibility of future tragedies like the Gold King Mine.”

“Right now, huge multinational mining companies can extract gold, silver and other valuable hardrock minerals that belong to American taxpayers without paying a dime under a mining law passed when Ulysses S. Grant was President,” Markey said. “The mining law of 1872 isn’t just outdated, it’s outrageous. We need to ensure that these large mining companies pay their fair share to mine on public lands so that we have the revenue to protect public health and the environment by cleaning up the hundreds of thousands of dangerous, toxic abandoned mines in Western states.”  

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 will:  

- Set a 2 to 5 percent royalty rate for new mining operations, based on gross income on production.

- Use royalty revenue and a separate fee of 0.6 to 2 percent to pay for abandoned mine cleanup.

- Allow states and tribes to receive funding for hardrock reclamation programs, and establish a grant program for other organizations that want to carry out restoration projects.

- Require permits for non-casual exploration and mining on federal land, and outline requirements for a permit like avoiding acid mine drainage.

- Require annual rental payments for claimed public land, thereby permanently eliminating patenting and characterizing mine operators as other public land users. 

- Give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to grant royalty relief if economic factors require it.

- Permit states and tribes to petition the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw lands from mining, and require an expedited review of certain lands to determine whether they are appropriate for future mining. 

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