Witnesses testifying before the House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Thursday called for reforms of the Bureau of Land Management’s claim maintenance fees, as well as effective “Good Samaritan” abandoned mined land hardrock cleanup programs.
Kris Hefton, COO of Vane Minerals, told the subcommittee that mining companies are currently required to pay claim maintenance fees annually even if those areas have been withdrawn from mining activity by the BLM.
Subcommittee Chairman, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, said he’s concerned about individuals having to pay claim maintenance fees but can’t further develop their claims if they didn’t have a discovery on those claims prior to federal withdrawal of those lands from mining.
The claim maintenance fee is currently $140 per claim for lode claims, mills sites, and tunnel sites, and $140 per 20 acres for placer claims. The one-time claim location fee is currently $34 per claim. Jamie Connell, Acting Deputy Director of the BLM, said the fees generated $65.8 million in combined revenues in fiscal year 2012. The BLM received $39.7 million from those fees to offset the costs of the Mining Law Administration program.
Connell noted that the President’s Budget for 2014 also includes a new royalty of not less than 5 percent of gross proceeds.
Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, told the subcommittee that the environmental organization “believes the claim maintenance fee is an important tool to protect the nation’s interest in our public lands. In addition to being the only federal government revenue received from mining the public’s minerals, the claim maintenance fee helps protect the public against land fraud and speculation.”
Harold Roberts, COO for uranium miner Energy Fuels, spoke in support of “Good Samaritan” programs to clean up abandoned mine lands. “Energy Fuels Resources and the rest of the industry continue to strongly support the enactment of Good Samaritan legislation that would allow mining companies to voluntarily reclaim abandoned mine sites without incurring liability under federal and state environmental laws,” he said. “Thoughtful legislation is a winning proposition for the environment, the communities and our nation.”
Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited, observed, “There are numerous citizen groups that have formed in this country for the purpose of protecting, conserving and enhancing the natural resources of their local communities. …These ‘Good Samaritans’ need liability protection to voluntarily clean up the abandoned mine sites that directly affect the quality of water that serves their communities.”
In her testimony, Pagel asserted that lack of funding is “the single largest obstacle to the restoration of abandoned hardrock mines.”
“A steady-stream of long-term funding for hardrock AML cleanup, similar to the coal abandoned mine fee and program is essential to dealing with the scope of the problems western states face from abandoned mines,” she stressed, adding that Earthworks support comprehensive reform of the 1872 Mining Law that includes both a royalty and a reclamation fee.