Washington, DC -
11/17/2011 - Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement today in reaction to two titles in a bill introduced yesterday by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. Titles V and VI in the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act of 2011 would reform the 1872 mining law, which still governs gold, uranium, and other hardrock mining on U.S. public lands; support abandoned mine cleanup; and could provide $6 billion in revenue to the U.S. Treasury over the next decade.
“Rep. Markey and his colleagues have taken an important first step to modernize the 1872 Mining Law, one of the most outmoded statutes on the books today. We’re pleased that this measure would at long last put the mining industry on par with companies that extract oil, gas, and coal—by requiring that taxpayers be compensated for resources taken from our public lands.
“The 1872 law allows the industry to mine—for free—gold, uranium, and other valuable minerals from American public lands, even with metal prices at record levels and concern over the federal deficit at an all-time high. And, with few restrictions on where mining can occur, national treasures such as the Grand Canyon are increasingly threatened. Prior inaction by Congress has cost American taxpayers billions in lost revenue and in cleanup of toxic sites. With a large number of watersheds in the West contaminated by mining, affected cities and towns are paying a particularly high price.
“The Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act of 2011 responds to these issues by setting a royalty equal to what other industries have been paying for decades. It would provide safeguards for clean water, give communities and agencies a say about where mining is permitted, and set appropriate public disclosure standards. The Abandoned Mines Reclamation and Deficit Reduction Act would start to address the estimated 500,000 abandoned mines on public lands. We encourage members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to pass these reform bills and protect taxpayers and the environment.”
The mining of gold, uranium, and other hardrock minerals is still governed by a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. This statute gives mining companies “free and open access” to the majority of public land in the West, and in 2010 alone it allowed at least $2.4 billion in valuable metals to be taken from public land without taxpayer compensation, according to the House Natural Resources Committee’s correspondence with the Congressional Research Service (PDF). The Obama administration and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have called for modernizing the law. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory has identified the hardrock mining industry as the nation’s top polluter. More than $2 billion in federal spending went to mine cleanup in the past decade.