House Passes Mining Reform Bill Senator Bingaman’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee now working on Senate Version
GetAGRIP Winter 2008
In November, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 244 to 166 in favor of HR2262, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 sponsored by Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Representative Jim Costa (D-CA). By reforming the outdated General Mining Law of 1872, this bill would protect public lands from irresponsible mining and safeguard critical drinking water supplies, fish and wildlife habitat and the health and wellbeing of our communities. (See Summer 2007 issue of GetAGRIP).
The 1872 Mining Law allows companies to buy valuable mineral bearing public lands for next to nothing — $5 an acre- — and take those minerals without paying the public any royalty. In New Mexico, more than 55,000 acres or 86 square miles of public lands have already been sold to private interests for either $2.50 or $5.00 per acre according to mining reform advocacy group, Earthworks. The law doesn’t contain any environmental provisions and its legacy is hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines requiring an estimated $32 – $72 billion to clean up. Under the mining law, mining has been interpreted as trumping all other uses of public lands even if that mining would destroy special places or threaten valuable water supplies.
In response to HR2262’s passage, Stephen D’Esposito, President of Earthworks, stated, “If this effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law is to succeed, leadership from the mining industry itself and from community and political leaders in western states is needed. Each of these states – from Washington to New Mexico – have been, and continue to be, adversely affected by this antiquated law and its lack of adequate protections for taxpayers and the environment.”
Here in Grant County, over 51,000 acres of public lands have been claimed, the majority by Phelps Dodge, subsidiary of mining giant Freeport-McMoRan. Under the 1872 Mining Law, public land managers, such as the Gila National Forest, find it difficult to deny a mining application on public land. HR2262 would give public land managers the ability to balance mining activity with other uses, such as recreation. Another key provision of HR2262 would establish an 8% royalty on the value of the minerals extracted (comparable to the 8% to 12.5% royalty paid by coal, oil and natural gas extractors) to fund clean up of abandoned hard rock mines on public lands. Statewide, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 abandoned mines that need to be reclaimed. Grant, McKinley and Sierra counties have the greatest number of abandoned mine sites in New Mexico.
Mining reform would have very tangible environmental benefits to our Grant County community. New Mexico’s Senator Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is now working on a draft of the senate version of HR2262. At a recent senate committee hearing on mining reform, ranking member, New Mexico’s Senator Pete Domenici, made it clear that he would support only a watered down version of mining reform. It is critical that mining communities such as ours let our New Mexico delegation know that we support mining reform. Please take action today on behalf of our local environment and quality of life.
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