EARTHWORKS

1872 Mining Law - Reform Requirements

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The Zortman-Landusky mine complex in Montana's Little Rocky Mountains was inadequately inspected, enforced, and bonded. When Pegasus, the mining company who operated it, went bankrupt, taxpayers were (and are) on the hook for cleanup costs which have run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Mining law reform means different things to different constituencies.  For example, the mining industry claims to support "mining reform", but what they support would not significantly (if at all) improve the status quo.

Principles of legitimate 1872 Mining Law reform should include:

Protecting special places from mining

Under the federal government's current interpretation, land managers give preference to mining over all other land uses - from recreation to drinking water supplies to hunting.

This leaves special places like the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, and the wild and scenic Chetco River in danger from mineral development.

Reform of the mining law must recognize that there are some places that should not be mined and must clearly give land managers the ability to deny a mine proposal if there are other important resource values that could be damaged by a mining operation.

Strengthening environmental standards

There are no statutory environmental standards written specifically for mining on lands open to location under the 1872 Mining Law.

The Clean Water Act does not protect groundwater from mining pollution, and there is no definition of how to reclaim a mine, for example. Mining industry-specific environmental standards must be created to:

Fiscal reforms

The 1872 Mining Law currently provides the mining industry with billions of dollar in subsidies. The two most egregious:

A new, reformed mining law should end patenting, and establish a fair royalty -- based on the value of the mineral extracted.

Enforcement, inspection, and bonding

Enforcement and inspection

Currently, public land managers cannot enforce what mining regulations that do exist. Instead, they must petition the Justice Department to do so - a slow and cumbersome process.

Under a reformed mining law, land managers must have the authority to ensure operator compliance by requiring:

Additionally, new mining permits must not be given to operators with outstanding violations.

Bonding and financial guarantees

To protect taxpayers and provide incentive to fully comply with the law, financial guarantees must be required for all phases of operation that would completely cover the cost of both reclaiming the mine and the costs associated with managing the reclamation.

Financial guarantees must be backed by concrete financial instruments. Self-bonding/corporate guarantees is not acceptable.

Abandoned mine reclamation fund

There are more than 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines in the United States that will cost between $32 and $72 billion dollars to reclaim. Currently there is no funding source for abandoned hardrock mine reclamation. An abandoned mine land fund, paid for through mining royalties and fees, is needed to clean up the scarred landscapes and polluted waters left by the mining industry.


For more information:

Tagged with: taxes, royalties, bonding, abandoned mines, 1872 mining law

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