U.S. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall of West Virginia has reintroduced legislation to reform the 1872 Mining Law.
Rahall’s bill easily won the approval of the House during the last congressional session, but was not approved in the Senate.
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 (HR 269) is nearly identical to the previous bill approved by the House in 2007. It includes an 8% gross royalty on production from future mines on public lands and a 4% gross royalty from mines now operating on federal lands.
It would allows the federal government to withdraw wilderness study areas, area of initial environmental concern, areas in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and imposes strong permitting requirements for mines proposed near national parks, such as the Grand Canyon.
The measure would also end the sales of public lands that contain mineral resources and establish a clean-up fund for abandoned hardrock mines on public lands. It would also create a community impact assistance account to provide financial assistance for communities impacted by mining, including funds for infrastructure and public services.
HR 269 would also allow for the suspension of mining permits and allow the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to order mines cease operations if serious environmental pollution becomes a crisis. Mine operators would only be allowed to suspend mining operations for no more than 180 days without seeking the permission of the federal government.
The Secretaries could also deny mining plans of operations or exploration permits.
The bill also provides for citizen lawsuits against mining or exploration programs.
“I have labored to reform the Mining Law of 1872 for nearly three decades-not just to fight the giveaway of public lands and valuable minerals, and to combat the threats to human health and safety from abandoned mine lands-but because I am a supporter of mining,” Rahall said. “I believe we can no longer expect a viable hardrock mining industry to exist on public domain lands in the future if we do not make corrections to the law today.”
Rahall also named Rep. Jim Costa, D-California, to again chair the Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals Resources, which will oversee any hearings on HR 269.
However, National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn said the bill will put “thousands of high-paying mining jobs and mining-dependent communities through the West” at risk. “These are jobs and operations that play a vital role in rebuilding America, but they cannot shoulder the world’s highest royalty and remain competitive in the international markets.”
Quinn added that the royalty and other aspects of HR 699 “are duplicative of other U.S. laws and regulations would needlessly jeopardize U.S. metals mining-further increasing our dependence on foreign sources for the metals we will need to rebuild America.”
“NMA supports responsible updates to the General Mining Law to keep U.S. mining strong, but this is the wrong medicine for our economy and crushing news for thousands of families in America’s mining community,” he concluded.