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Udall Applauds House Committee Passage Of Reform Legislation To Make Mining Companies Pay Fair Share

on December 2, 2019 - 7:47am
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall
WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) applauded House committee passage of legislation Wednesday sponsored by House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to reform the nation’s badly outdated 1872 hardrock mining law.
Udall is the lead sponsor of mining law reform legislation in the Senate, the Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2019, which would also require companies to pay royalties for the first time for the ability to extract mineral resources like gold, silver, and copper from public lands to help ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines.
In 2015, a blowout of the abandoned Gold King Mine in Southern Colorado spilled 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers, turning the rivers orange, and communities in New Mexico are still waiting for compensation for the damage to their businesses and farms.
“For 147 years the hardrock mining industry has run roughshod over the American people’s public land, looting precious resources and leaving behind abandoned minds that are polluting our environment with 50 million gallons of toxic wastewater a day. I applaud Chairman Grijalva and members of the House of Representatives for standing up for Americans who are tired of hardrock mining conglomerates – many of them foreign-owned with billionaire investors – profiting from their public lands without paying a dime,” said Udall, who has introduced mining reform legislation in several Congresses. “It’s time now for the Senate to do the same and hold a hearing on efforts to reform this badly-outdated law, which was passed when a 49er was a gold miner and not a football player. With the administration’s emphasis on ‘critical minerals’ and expedited permitting for companies, we need to have a real conversation here in the Senate about the taxpayers and local water supplies that will bear the brunt of these activities. Under the old 1872 law, mining corporations get the gold, and the taxpayer gets the shaft.”
The legislation is supported by the entire New Mexico delegation. Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) wrote to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee leadership in June requesting a hearing on the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act to provide a forum for states, environmental groups, and industry to discuss mining reform.
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.  An Associated Press analysis in 2019 of just 43 abandoned mining sites found that “more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites, [and in] many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds.”
The full text of Udall’s legislation is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of Udall’s bill is available HERE. A fact sheet is available HERE.
Udall’s Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act would:
  • Place hardrock mining on the same footing with other mining industries with a new royalty rate of 5% to 8% based on the gross income of production on federal land. This rate would not apply to mining operations already in commercial production or those with an approved plan of operations. The Act allows the Secretary of the Interior to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors.
  • Finally provide for abandoned mine cleanup through the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund, paid for by royalties and infused by an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 1% to 3%.
  • End the public lands giveaway, by requiring an exploration permit and mining operations permit for non-casual mining operations on federal land, valid for 30 years and to continue as long as commercial production occurs.
  • Encourage local autonomy over mining, and gives States, political subdivisions, and Indian tribes the authority to petition the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw certain lands from mining.
  • Require a “look before you leap” approach, and directs Interior to conduct an expedited review of areas that may be inappropriate for mining and therefore eligible for withdrawal.
Original cosponsors of Udall’s bill include Heinrich, and Senators 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.).