EARTHWORKS Fact Sheet: Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009

EARTHWORKS Fact Sheet: Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009

Published: March 2, 2009

By: Lauren Pagel

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The antiquated General Mining Law of 1872 is one of the last remaining dinosaurs of the old public land giveaways. Although it was enacted 135 years ago when Ulysses S. Grant was President, it still governs hardrock mining on federal lands today. It allows foreign and domestic companies to take valuable minerals from public lands without paying any royalties, and it still allows public land to be purchased at the 1872 price of less than $5.00 an acre.

The 1872 Mining Law contains no environmental provisions, allowing hardrock mines to wreak havoc on western water supplies, wildlife and landscapes. Mining has polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of Western watersheds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

To address these issues and others, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Chairman Costa (D-CA) introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, HR 699. The bill is the same bill that passed the House of Representatives on November 1, 2007. The bill:

Protects Special Places from Irresponsible Mining
The federal government currently interprets the 1872 Mining Law as mandating that mining is the highest and best use for public lands. Federal land managers give preference to mining over all other land uses from recreation to clean water to hunting. HR 699 would protect sensitive lands and put mining on equal footing with other land uses by:

Establishes Environmental Standards
Under current law, there are no statutory environmental standards written specifically for hardrock mining. For example, the Clean Water Act does not protect groundwater from mining pollution, and there is no definition of how to reclaim a mine. HR 699 establishes mining specific standards, including:

Implements Fiscal Reforms
Current law allows extraction of public minerals without royalty payment to taxpayers. The 1872 Mining Law still allows multinational mining companies to buy (patent) mineral bearing public land for less than $5.00 per acre - although the annually renewed patenting moratorium has stopped new patents since 1995. HR 699 addresses fiscal reform as follows:

Creates Funds to Clean Up Abandoned Mines and Assist Impacted Communities
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 dedicated federal funding source for abandoned hardrock mine reclamation. HR 699 would:

Communities throughout the West have been adversely impacted by the boom and bust cycle of mining. HR 699 would:

Requires Enforcement
HR 699 would require substantially better industry oversight, including:

For More Information on the 1872 mining law, please see and EARTHWORKS' 1872 Mining Law page

Tagged with: mining reform, 1872 mining law

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