Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, today sent a letter signed by 15 House Democratic colleagues and endorsed by seven conservation organizations to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to modernize federal mining regulations and set a groundbreaking standard for tribal consent in permitting future mining projects. Chair Grijalva intends to introduce comprehensive mining reform legislation later this year to address the numerous shortcomings of the 150-year-old law that still governs mining on public lands.
The letter, available at https://bit.ly/3aIgTKU, calls on the two departments to pursue thorough tribal consultation before approving mining projects, require mining companies to post full financial assurances to cover the lifetime costs of reclamation and mine cleanup, and establish a more rigorous enforcement regime that “holds violators clearly accountable,” among other measures. Congress has not meaningfully updated federal mining standards since President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Mining Law of 1872, which has had serious financial and environmental consequences for generations of American taxpayers.
The letter urges the administration to meet a standard in tribal consultation known as free, prior, and informed consent, which is recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Meeting the standard would give Native American communities, for the first time, the legal authority to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories; to withdraw that consent once given; and to negotiate the conditions under which a project will be designed, implemented, monitored and evaluated.
The lawmakers lay out their case after witnessing the serious consequences of mining industry favoritism by the Trump administration, which in 2017 scrapped a federal rule that would have required hard rock mining operations to prove they had the financial means to clean up future pollution. The letter is endorsed by Earthworks, Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Organization of Resource Councils, The Wilderness Society, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, and Grand Canyon Trust.
Mining is a frequent source of acid drainage and other pollution, and the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that hard rock mining has polluted the headwaters of 40 percent of Western watersheds. You can learn more about toxic discharges from mining operations across the country at the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory page on metal mining.
Statements of Endorsement
Our nation’s ridiculously outdated mining law from the time of Ulysses S. Grant is only made worse by outdated regulations, which allows reckless pollution by international mining companies, leaves taxpayers holding the bill, and endangers clean water and priceless American lands. We thank Chairman Grijalva for leading this charge and encourage the Biden administration to heed the call and act immediately to reduce the impact hardrock mining is having on our clean air, water, lands and cultural resources. Reforming our hardrock mining regulations clearly fits within this administration’s focus on environmental justice and climate change.
Senior Legislative Representative, Earthjustice
For centuries, mining on Tribal and public lands has left behind a toxic legacy that has polluted groundwater, air, and left behind irreparable damage— all while mining companies have failed to pay adequate amounts for clean-up and left communities with the bill. It is past time for meaningful reform of this industry, and we look forward to the Biden administration’s urgent effort to update the antiquated and ineffective safeguards currently in place.
Federal Policy Associate, Sierra Club
Updating our mining rules is essential for responsible mineral sourcing from public lands. Under the 1872 mining law, mining is prioritized over every other land use. Reform must focus on protecting communities and the environment by balancing industrial scale mining with other important land uses, such as sacred and cultural site protection, conservation, recreation and tourism, municipal water supplies, and renewable energy development.
Policy director, Earthworks
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