Washington D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) today announced the introduction of House and Senate legislation to modernize the nation’s severely antiquated hardrock mining law.
The full text of Sen. Heinrich’s Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act is available at https://bit.ly/3vgh3DY.
Regulation of hardrock mineral extraction in the United States has remained virtually unchanged for 150 years, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Act of 1872 into law. This antiquated system has allowed mining companies to extract more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals from U.S. public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties to the American people. These same companies have left the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs for abandoned hardrock mines, which have polluted 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds. Many Indigenous communities’ sacred sites and lands are continuously at-risk of being permanently destroyed by mining.
With a growing demand for the critical minerals necessary for a clean energy transition, the need to reform the existing mining law is particularly salient. Modernizing our leasing system would address major environmental justice concerns, protect our public lands, and ensure a fair return for American taxpayers.
The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act requires hardrock mining operations to meet requirements and standards that are similar to what already apply to oil, gas, and coal development on public lands. Among other measures, the bill would:
- Ensure a fair return to American taxpayers by establishing a royalty on mining operations.
- Require federal agencies to conduct meaningful consultation with Tribes prior to permitting mining activities that will impact tribal communities.
- Level the playing field between mining and all other uses of public lands–such as grazing, hunting, and energy development–allowing it to be managed through existing land-use planning processes.
- Give federal land managers clear authority to protect special and sacred areas from future mining.
- Set strong environmental standards for mining activities and long-term reclamation. It would also establish the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund to make industry, not taxpayers, pay for cleanup of abandoned mine sites.
“Minerals like copper and lithium are essential for our clean energy future, but that doesn’t mean we should sacrifice our environment, health, and sacred or special places just to get them,” Chair Grijalva said. “Our current mining law was put in place before we even knew what a car was, much less an electric one. By keeping this outdated system going, we’re telling mining companies it’s okay to wreak total havoc on our environment and then leave American taxpayers to foot the cleanup bill. Modernizing this relic of a law isn’t extreme or anti-industry—it’s just common sense.”
“Unlike other 19th century western settlement laws, which have long since been reformed or replaced, the Mining Act of 1872 is still on the books. This law drew thousands of people to the West to earn a living, including my father and my grandfather who worked in hardrock mining. But shortsighted policy also left behind a scarred legacy on our lands and water,” said Sen. Heinrich, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee “The Mining Act of 1872 has been on the books for 40 years longer than New Mexico has been a state. This antiquated law has become a driving force behind centuries of legacy mining pollution that is leaking toxic heavy metals and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers all across the West. Unlike the way we manage other publicly-owned natural resources like coal and oil, we don’t collect any royalties on hardrock minerals to return fair value to taxpayers. We also don’t have a reclamation fee to help with cleanup work, and we lack a clear process to protect the types of places that simply aren’t appropriate for mineral development. It’s long past time to change that.”
“The Mining Law of 1872 is one of the most obsolete laws still on the books. It is a complete relic, written for an outdated vision of the American West and a mining industry that no longer exists,” said Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chair Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.). “Today’s hardrock mining industry is fleecing the American taxpayer. It is outrageous, and it must stop.”
Original cosponsors of Chair Grijalva’s Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act include Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chair Lowenthal, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), and Rep. Rashida Talib (D-Mich.).
Original cosponsors of Sen. Heinrich’s bill include U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass.)
The Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee will hold a legislative hearing on the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act on Thursday, May 12, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Over seventy environmental, conservation, and Tribal rights’ organizations sent a letter to Members of Congress supporting the mining reform legislation. The letter is available here. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Trout Unlimited, and National Wildlife Federation also support the bill.
“For decades, mining companies have capitalized on our public lands without paying royalties and left behind toxic pollution, thanks in large part to outdated mining laws from 150 years ago,” said Athan Manuel, Director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program. “As we make the transition to clean energy, we cannot continue these extractive, unsustainable processes that put profits over people. It’s time to pass the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act to bring our mining laws out of the 19th century, put an end to subsidizing mining operations, and protect our communities and treasured places.”
“For over 150 years, mining operations have been governed by an antiquated and racist law that contains no environmental or community protections” said League of Conservation Voters Conservation Program Director Alex Taurel. “As we increase our focus on mining the raw materials needed to secure a clean energy future independent of petro-state autocrats, we must root our efforts in justice for the communities that have long been disproportionately harmed by colonization and resource extraction, particularly Indigenous communities. This bill will give land managers the ability to defend our public lands from irresponsible mining, provide taxpayers with a fair return, and allocate funds to address the long-standing hazards of abandoned mines to drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat. We thank Chair Grijalva and Sen. Heinrich for their leadership and urge Congress to act so that we may begin to fix the mining industry’s toxic legacy.”
“For 150 years mining companies have extracted our country’s mineral resources, failed to adequately compensate taxpayers, left behind toxic sites that poisoned local communities, and destroyed sacred Indigenous lands and environmental treasures without consequence,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “While we understand that mining is an important component in transitioning us to a clean energy future, it must proceed in the most sustainable way possible with strong environmental protections, robust community engagement, and meaningful tribal consultation. Thank you Chair Grijalva and Senator Heinrich for recognizing the need to update our mining laws to the twenty-first century and protect the people and special places that need it the most.”
“We welcome Chairman Grijalva’s leadership by introducing the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2022” said Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel. “The Biden administration has repeatedly said we must reform our outdated federal mining laws. This legislation answers the President’s call to ensure protections for our shared public lands and the communities that call those lands home. The clean energy transition cannot be built on dirty mining. The mistakes of the fossil fuel era must not be repeated. Minerals demand must first be met with recycling, reuse and extending the life of products already in use. If new mining is necessary, protecting communities and natural resources, particularly those relied on by Indigenous peoples and protected by treaties, must be a top priority. We urge Congress to swiftly pass these necessary reforms.”
“The 150-year-old law that governs American mining is severely outdated, offering no protections for communities or public lands that are facing the threat of industrial mining” said Jamie Williams, President, The Wilderness Society. “As we navigate towards a clean energy future, updating our mining laws is a necessary first step to protect people, wildlife and our shared lands and waters against toxic mining pollution. The Wilderness Society is proud to stand behind Chairman Grijalva’s efforts to update this antiquated law.”
“Hunters and anglers have long-advocated for legislation to modernize the General Mining Act of 1872” said John Gale, Conservation Director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The world has changed a lot in the last 150 years and hardrock mining’s image of the one-man operation with a mule and a pickax is a far cry from the multinational corporations systematically extracting minerals from our lands and waters today. We also acknowledge that establishing parity with other extractive industries that pay royalties and have greater regulatory safeguards in place for protecting natural resources is central to the conversation and important as taxpayers look to congressional leaders for establishing new revenue streams to support better management of our public lands and waters. It well past time for us to do more for our water resources and improve habitat for fish and wildlife while generating new jobs and establishing higher standards for the stewardship of our natural resources.”
“For far too long, antiquated and racist hardrock mining law has governed mining operations in the United States. In the past 150 years, frontline communities endured discrimination, injustice, and prejudice to receive basic needs like clean drinking water, all for mining operations to produce high yields.” says Mark Magana Founding CEO of GreenLatinos. “It’s time we address this issue and use our public lands in a way that acknowledges the histories and traditions of those historically and deliberately overlooked communities. By giving land managers the ability to balance mining with other uses of public lands, The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2022 is a bill that would defend local communities and wild places from irresponsible mining.”
“This is important legislation that would protect public lands and end government handouts to mining companies,” said Hans Cole, head of Environmental Activism at Patagonia. “Pollution from mining endangers air, water and wildlife habitats, and this bill would prioritize the health of people and the planet.”
“The Fort Belknap Indian Community supports House Natural Resources Chairman Grijalva’s Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act,” said Fort Belknap Indian Community President Jeffrey Stiffarm. “Reforming the Mining Law of 1872 is long overdue. The Fort Belknap Indian Community has been directly affected by mining atrocities and to this day, suffers the effects and is having to react and remediate the damage allowed by outdated and loosely translated mining laws. The Fort Belknap Indian Community is facing permanent surface and groundwater contamination from decades of hard rock mining in the Little Rocky Mountains on and adjacent to the Fort Belknap Reservation and continues to suffer from multiple devastating and lasting harms to the Tribes’ beneficial uses, including impairment of drinking water, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, agricultural, and industrial uses. Acid mine drainage has likewise resulted in public health risks and continues to threaten the Tribes’ powwow grounds, ceremonial and sacred sites, including other areas of cultural significance. Negative environmental impacts are exacerbated by these outdated laws. All people, all governments, all environmental forums will benefit by updated and standardized laws. The Fort Belknap Indian Community is very supportive of the new legislation that helps to protect our sacred sites and requires meaningful tribal consultation prior to permitting activities that impact our lands.”
“Fair royalties, agency discretion and funding for abandoned mine cleanups are essential components of mining law reform and we thank Representative Grijalva for his efforts to tackle this challenging issue,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders to help advance a bill that ensures certainty needed by industry while providing the tools and resources needed to clean up abandoned mines – one of the nation’s biggest threats to clean water.”
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