An Open Letter to President Obama on Mining
November 7, 2012
Dear Mr President -
Congratulations on your reelection.
Now that the fluff and the fury of the campaign is past, it’s time to buckle down and make the real decisions that are going to determine whether our country moves forward to a more sustainable future.
Don’t despair though, Mr. President. We are here to help.
Sustainability -- making decisions today that leave us as at least as well off tomorrow -- is inextricably intertwined with how we use (or don’t use) our natural resources. And that means energy, and mining. I’ll cover mining today, and energy tomorrow.
Mining reform: good for the budget, good for jobs, good for clean water
The economy is your highest priority, and I have some good news for you: there is a low-hanging fruit that can help make up some of the budget deficit, create new jobs, help protect clean water and move us toward a more sustainable economy. It’s name: mining reform.
That’s because the 1872 Mining Law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant to encourage mineral development -- is still the law of the land. Giving away free public land and free public minerals with no environmental oversight may have once seemed like a good idea to help settle the West. But after 140 years under the 1872 Mining Law, we have:
- given away more than $300 billion in minerals, royalty-free,
- “sold” off public lands equivalent in size to the state of Connecticut -- for no more than $5/acre, and
- taken on a $50 billion tab for abandoned mine cleanup.
Reforming this dinosaur of a law is a golden (pardon the pun) opportunity. That’s because mining reform -- in the form of a bill like the HR3446, the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act would:
- generate $6 billion to reduce the deficit and help clean up abandoned mines
- generate thousands of mine cleanup jobs at the more than 250,000 abandoned mines around the country (as your own administration decided during the 2009 fiscal stimulus), and
- help provide clean water -- more than 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds are polluted by mining.
“Critical Minerals” legislation: bad for communities, bad for the environment
Despite the sweetheart deal that is the 1872 Mining Law, the mining lobby is actually pushing for more special favors for mining on public lands -- under the cloak of the need for “critical minerals” such as rare earths used in electronics manufacturing. The lame duck Senate may consider S1113/HR4402, the Critical Minerals Policy Act, which considers altering the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to limit public input in mine permitting.
The rationale? That federal oversight -- including the 1872 Mining Law -- discourages mineral investment and must be made even weaker to encourage domestic critical minerals development. Mr. President, this argument isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
Every year, mining companies around the world rate the favorability of different governments’ mineral policies. The United States ranks in the top ten annually.
The same survey asks mining companies how potential mineral investment destinations rank if ALL government oversight were removed. One would expect that -- were the mining lobby correct -- that U.S. mineral investment attractiveness would increase without any federal laws. But, in fact, the opposite is true.
So Mr. President, although you have many tough decisions to make next four years, these two should be easy. For a more sustainable future, support real mining reform in the form of HR3446, the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act, and oppose “criticial minerals” legislation represented by S1113/HR4402, the Critical Minerals Policy Act.
Thanks for your attention. Tomorrow, on to energy.
Earthworks’ Executive Director
For more information:
- The General Mining Law of 1872
- Real mining reform: HR 3446, the Fair Payment for Energy and Mineral Production on Public Lands Act
- S1113, the Critical Minerals Policy Act
- Attractiveness of the U.S. for Mineral Investment