Grijalva/Udall GAO Study on Value of Public Resources

On. Sept. 22, 2011, Rep. Grijalva -- as the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands -- publicly released a letter he and Sen. Tom Udall sent the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an investigation of corporate profits and public financial benefits from mineral and oil extraction on federal lands. Coverage of the report's Dec. 12, 2012, release is below. You can read the report at


Mining firm profits from public lands remain a mystery, new GAO study shows

Posted on Dec. 12, 2012 by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

The federal government has no idea how much gold, copper and other hard-rock minerals are being extracted from public lands each year — nor how much the minerals are worth — because the companies licensed to operate the mines pay no royalties, according to a report the Government Accountability Office will make public Wednesday.

The new report, requested by Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), could spur a renewed push to reform the 140-year-old law governing U.S. hard-rock mining. Under the General Mining Act of 1872, the government charges mining companies $189 to locate a claim and then $140 annually to maintain it after the first year. What the companies extract from public terrain is theirs to sell on the open market.

The GAO report — which estimates that extraction of oil, gas, natural gas liquids and coal on federal and Indian lands produced $11.4 billion in federal revenue last year — said it could not make a similar assessment for hard-rock minerals. Federal agencies generally don’t collect data on the value of hard-rock minerals taken from public land because the only reason to do so would be to calculate royalties, the report states.

Back in 1993, when metal prices were much lower, however, the Interior Department estimated that sales of hard-rock minerals from federal lands totaled $6.41 billion.

“This should be front and center of the natural resource agenda for this next administration,” Udall said in a phone interview. “These hard-rock minerals belong to the American people, and today we’re quite literally giving our gold and silver away.”

The rise of metal prices over the past decade — gold has soared from $300 to $1,700 an ounce, for example — makes the industry a tempting target for lawmakers looking for new sources of revenue. “Everybody’s penny-pinching, and here’s a penny we haven’t pinched,” Grijalva said in an interview.

Chandler Smith, spokeswoman for Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), said her boss “will be engaged in any effort to reform or update the Mining Act of 1872,” adding that any overhaul “should be done in a thoughtful manner that will not cost jobs or negatively impact Nevada’s economy.”

Last year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Robert Abbey, then Bureau of Land Management director, reached out behind the scenes to some American mining companies, raising the idea of charging royalties based on the companies’ net revenue from their federal-land operations. Abbey, who retired from the agency earlier this year, said in an interview that he believes a compromise could be struck.

“They’re walking away with really significant revenues . . . with no return to the American taxpayers,” Abbey said.

While both Democrats and Republicans have tried to overhaul the nation’s mining laws for decades — Udall’s father, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, called it “the most important piece of unfinished business on the nation’s resource agenda” when he left Lyndon B. Johnson’s Cabinet in 1969 — neither party has managed to overcome industry opposition.

Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association, said the industry is now focused on making it easier to extract rare-earth metals and other strategic minerals by speeding up federal permitting and reducing potential lawsuits.

Several mining companies, including Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. But Newmont Mining Corp. spokesman Omar Jabara, whose firm’s top officials discussed royalties with Salazar and Abbey last year, wrote in an e-mail that his company is open to paying royalties based on future net revenue.

Michael Dudas, managing director and mining analyst for Sterne Agee, said while metal ore firms have become a tempting revenue target for politicians across the globe recently, “what’s been bedeviling the companies is [that] the cost of building a mine, permitting a mine and, if you do that, operating a mine have risen at a pretty good clip as well.” If they face additional costs in the United States, Dudas said, they may “look elsewhere” to operate.

Industry officials say they contribute to the economy even without paying royalties.

Responding to an inquiry last year from Grijalva about the value of uranium that Denison Mines Corp. had extracted from public land, company chief executive Ron F. Hochstein did not divulge any specific figures. But he said the metal ore industry overall accounted for nearly 290,000 jobs and contributed $37.2 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product, according to an industry-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers study.

Grijalva, who called mining firms “outright arrogant” for failing to disclose what they’re taking from public lands, said at a minimum these companies should report the volume and value of what they’re extracting.

The Obama administration has included both disclosure and federal royalties for hard-rock minerals as part of its budget proposals for the past two years, without success.

Lawmakers seek to rekindle mining reform efforts

Posted on December 12, 2012 by Jason Dearen, Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — While the U.S. government reaps billions of dollars in royalties each year from fossil fuels extracted from federal lands and waters, it does not collect any money from gold, uranium or other metals mined from the same places, Congressional auditors reported Wednesday.

The federal government doesn't even know how much these so-called "hard rock" mines produce from federal public lands in the 12 western states where most of the mining occurs, the Government Accountability Office report found.

And there is no federal law requiring the disclosure of production figures from individual mines.

Two Democratic lawmakers are hoping public concerns over the economy and the "fiscal cliff" will reinvigorate a movement on Capitol Hill to reform the General Mining Act of 1872, which exempted mining companies from paying royalties for profiting from U.S. public lands.

They want miners to pay the same 12.5 percent in royalties as oil companies, a move that could bring hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual revenue.

The 1872 law "was designed to perpetuate the 'go west, young man' idea to bring people, commerce and industry to the West. But that's done, it's the new West now," said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who along with Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, requested the GAO study.

The U.S. Department of the Interior collected $11.3 billion in 2010 and $11.4 billion in 2011 from oil, coal and natural gas royalties and leases, the report found.

The mining industry, which has fought to kill similar reform bills, said it already pays billions in taxes involving mines located on state and private lands.

"In 2008, there were $20 billion in sales in U.S. metals, and we paid about $8.3 billion in various taxes on that," said Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for the National Mining Association. She said the industry supports fair compensation for the government but not a royalty comparable to what is paid by the oil industry.

Grijalva and Udall said they plan to make their case in the next session of Congress. Grijalva said he planned to introduce a bill calling for royalties on the mining of metals on public land.

"We can't ignore these potential revenues any longer — not when the American people are counting on us to solve our economic challenges," Udall said in a statement. "Hardrock mining reform should be part of that discussion."

The new revenue — which Grijalva said could total as much as $2 billion annually depending on production — might be used for cleaning up abandoned mines, national parks and public lands. The bill would also require companies to disclose production levels on federal lands.

"The mining industry is a very powerful lobby, and they've basically kept the hands-off attitude," Grijalva said, explaining previous failed attempts at reform.

The GAO estimated the value of hard rock minerals mined on federal lands in 2011 was about $6.4 billion. If the industry paid royalties comparable to oil companies, the federal government would have received $800 million in royalties from those mines.

The mining industry opposed a similar bill that passed the House in 2008 but died in the Senate the following year.

Other Democrats in Congress do not agree on mining reform.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada — home to most of the country's gold mining — has been outspoken about past reform efforts.

His office didn't return a message seeking comment, but Reid has said he supports reform but cautioned that "we've got to work out what (industry) wants, and I will take care of them," he told the Elko Daily Free Press in 2010.

The mining association's Raulston said the industry is not opposed to royalties in theory but believes charging a rate comparable to oil, coal and natural gas is unfair.

"Metals are not immediately sellable products — there are processes and refining needed to get out the impurities," she said. "So, there are added costs in metals mining that you don't see in other natural resources like timber, gas and coal."

Supporters of royalties such as Grijalva say reform is overdue and multinational mining companies that profit from U.S. public lands should be paying.

"We're not dealing with a grub stake or prospector going out there, but multinational companies that end up exporting most of the minerals they take out," Grijalva said. "And we're getting nothing back for taxpayers to maintain parks, offset the deficit and to clean up abandon mines all over the West."

Levy on gold could be budget windfall, US lawmakers say

Posted on December 12, 2012 by Patrick Rucker, Reuters

WASHINGTON: Revising a 19th-century US law that governs the mining of gold and other precious metalscould add billions of dollars to federal coffers at a time of tight budgets, according to some Democratic lawmakers and a government study released on Wednesday. 

Taxpayers receive no royalties on metals pulled fromfederal land, and officials drew a blank when they tried to find out how much gold, silver, copper and other valuable metal is sold. 

"Federal agencies generally do not collect data from hardrock mine operators," said the Government Accountability Office report, which looked at the market in 2010 and 2011. 

But applying a metals levy of 12.5 percent - the benchmark government share for other resources - could deliver hundreds of millions of dollars a year to taxpayers, according to independent studies and US Representative Raul Grijalva, who sought the report and other data from the mining industry. 

"As we face these fiscal challenges, these are the pennies that we should pinch," said Grijalva of Arizona, the leading Democrat on the panel that oversees public lands. 

Grijalva and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, who jointly called for the GAO report, say taxpayers should also benefit from a gold price surge that has boosted the bottom line for miners. 

Applying Grijalva's royalty formula on the 1.1 million ounces of yellow metal pulled last year from Goldstrike mine in Nevada, the largest in North America, could have yielded $150 million to taxpayers, according to a Reuters tally of industry data. 

Barrick Gold Corp, the mine operator, said only a fraction of Goldstrike is on federal land, and the company's taxes have already quadrupled in the five years of climbing gold prices. 

Taxpayers are entitled to a royalty from metal sales nevertheless, lawmakers said. 

Western mining power Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has reserves of copper and molybdenum, which is used to toughen steel, that would return about $700 million to taxpayers under Grijalva's proposed formula, according to a Reuters tabulation of company data. 

The 1872 mining law that drove prospectors into western states such as California still governs much of the industry. 

But this no-royalty law is a costly anachronism when mining giants can stake a claim on federal land for a few dollars an acre, Udall said. The coal, oil and gas industries, by comparison, have no such exemption. 

"We are giving our gold and silver for free and don't even know how much we are giving," said Udall, whose father, Stewart, was secretary of the Interior during the 1960s and called mining law reform his great unfinished work. 

Lawmakers who have occasionally tried to reform the mining rules have never cleared all the hurdles to pass new laws, as the industry has strong political allies. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, counts on mining support in his home state of Nevada, and lawmakers say it will be difficult to persuade him to take a bite out of the industry. 

But lawmakers say they may, in the end, go after the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks the mining industry claims each year, which they see as an easier political gambit than seeking royalties. 

"There are a lot of write-offs, and this is an issue we can bring to the coming debate about tax reform," Grijalva said. 

Those allowances also benefit the oil and gas industry, the GAO report says, with the federal take on energy exploration running billions of dollars below target. 

The offshore oil fields that were supposed to deliver a 12.5 percent royalty to taxpayers brought about 8 percent in 2010 and 2011, according to the report. 

One explanation for the shortfall, the report says, is industry allowances for the cost of transporting fuel and incentives meant to encourage some exploration. 

"We need to always be looking back and seeing if there is a good reason to continue with exemptions," said Udall. "That's something we're not very good at in government - ending the exemptions when they're no longer needed." 

State and local governments often catch a windfall from mining revenue, and Udall said Republican lawmakers from the West might be persuaded to increase the federal take. 

"Everyone agrees we need a balanced package to find new revenue," he said, "and this seems like the right time for reform."

New Report Raises Questions: Should American Taxpayers Be Giving Their Minerals Away To Mining Companies?

Posted on December 12, 2012 by Jessica Goad, Think Progress

As Washington struggles to address the country’s growing deficit, a new report released today finds that the federal government has lost its grip on finances in a different way.

An analysis from the Government Accountability Office reveals that the government does not keep track of the amount and value of hardrock minerals – gold, silver, copper, etc. – mined on public lands that are being given away to private companies.

Because the government does not collect royalties on these minerals, it claims there is no reason to keep track of this information:

We found that federal agencies generally do not collect data from hardrock mine operators on the amount and value of hardrock minerals extracted from federal lands because there is no federal royalty that would necessitate doing so.

The reason that companies mining hardrock minerals on public lands are exempt from paying royalties is a law passed almost 150 years ago, called the General Mining Act of 1872.  To this day, it is the law of the land when it comes to extracting hardrock minerals from the federal estate.  This means that mining companies are able to extract taxpayer-owned copper, gold, silver, and other minerals for nearly nothing in exchange.

Other resources extracted from public lands, like oil, coal, and natural gas, are subject to royalties of some sort, generally in the realm of 8-12.5 percent.  And while the federal government receives payments for drilling and mining in other ways like bonus bids and rents, royalties provide a significant amount of money to taxpayers:  GAO found that the total royalties received on coal, oil, and natural gas totaled $11.4 billion in 2011.

Although data on how many hardrock minerals are being extracted from public lands isn’t tracked, there have been some attempts at estimating what this loss to taxpayers looks like.  Using data from 1993, the Department of the Interior approximated that more than $6 billion worth of hardrock minerals was extracted from federal lands in fiscal year 2011.

Today’s report underscores the need  for greater disclosure of what is extracted from public lands, while also reforming the 1872 mining law and requiring companies to pay a royalty on the minerals that they extract.  Democratic members of the House Committee on Natural Resources pointed out that reforming the law could raise $300 million every year.

Reforming outdated policies like the 1872 mining law and subsidies for oil companies in order to help address the deficit are also important in the context of other extreme policies that have been proposed.  For example, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) recently called for selling off or trading public lands in order to reduce the deficit.

As Rep. Raul Grijalva, who requested the report along with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), put it:  “Everybody’s penny-pinching, and here’s a penny we haven’t pinched.”


Report: Mineral royalties untapped


Posted on Dec. 13, 2012 by Tony Davis, Arizona Daily Star


The dollar value of hard-rock minerals mined on federal land by companies is unknown because royalties from the sale of those minerals aren't paid to the federal government, a new report said Wednesday.

Also, companies leasing federal land for oil and natural gas operations often don't pay the full royalties set by federal law, the report from the Government Accountability Office shows. That often happens because of deductions legally available.

The GAO is Congress' investigative arm.

The report said federal agencies don't generally collect sales data from individual mine operators because no royalties exist to require such information. The report was requested by U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Tucson and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, of New Mexico. Both are Democrats.

Because no royalties exist, the government gets no money from hard-rock mining operations for metals such as copper and gold on public land beyond the relatively minor claim fees a company must pay annually to keep mining claims active.

A mineral sales value estimate does exist: about $6.41 billion for fiscal year 2010-11, set by the U.S. Department of Interior. That figure is based on a 1993 Interior estimate that 15.3 percent of the total U.S. production value of hard-rock minerals came from federal land, and from 2011 data on nonfuel minerals from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Typically, these minerals come from federal lands owned by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, including such lands surrounding Tucson.

Anne-Marie Fennell, GAO's natural resources and environment director, called the Interior Department estimate "rough." As a general rule, getting such financial data directly from the source as opposed to trying to estimate such values is a better approach, said Jeff Malcolm, GAO's assistant environment and natural resources director.

A mining industry spokesman, however, asked "what would be the point" of requiring mining companies to provide these sales value data when the feds don't collect royalties from them.

Oil and gas companies and other non-hard-rock federal land mineral lessees, such as coal miners, pay a royalty ranging from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent, the new report shows.

Grijalva and other congressional Democrats have sought unsuccessfully for many years to impose royalties on companies mining on federal lands.

A bill co-sponsored by Grijalva would set a 12.5 percent royalty rate on the value of the minerals. Mining interests say that rate is higher than in any other country in the world and could cripple future investments. They have not said what rate they find acceptable, but they say they're not against royalties in principle.

Grijalva said in an interview that he plans to introduce legislation requiring hard-rock mining companies to disclose the net worth of minerals they extract from public land. He sees that as a step toward a royalty program.

"This report points out the obvious - we don't value minerals extracted from public lands. All because of the 1872 Mining Law, there is no royalty," said Grijalva, referring to the 140-year-old law passed to encourage mining companies to enter federal land.

Luke Popovich, a National Mining Association spokesman, said he doesn't know that the association would oppose such disclosures, but "I just think what would be the point of requiring further paperwork and reporting requirement from an industry that already pays taxes."

"I think there are obvious reasons why we cannot account for value of metals on public land. No federal agencies are required to keep track of these. There's no reason to. There's no royalty paid on them," Popovich said.

Grijalva countered, "We're in the middle of this fiscal challenge ... we have to redirect revenues, we have public lands closing, less visitor hours, less maintenance and less hiring of researchers. ... Well, now we know we've been leaving a huge pot of money on the table that could change all that."

Udall said in a news release, "This report confirms what we've been saying all along - that we need to reform the mining law of 1872.

"Hard-rock minerals are natural resources that belong to the American people, and we need to make sure we are getting the best return on what should be an investment - not a giveaway."

But there's a difference between the oil and gas and the mining industries, Popovich said. Oil and natural gas removed from federal lands can be sold immediately, but hard-rock minerals need expensive processing once they're out of the ground, he said.

"Just because oil and gas have been paying royalties on federal lands, it doesn't mean that therefore hard-rock mining should be paying royalties," Popovich said.

On oil and natural gas, the GAO study found that annual revenue to the government from royalties paid on all such leasable materials on federal land was $11.3 billion in 2010 and $11.4 billion in 2011. The value of all sales on the open market of oil, natural gas and other minerals with federal leases was $92.3 billion in 2010 and $98.6 billion in 2011.

After deductions are taken into account for transportation and processing costs for the oil companies, the "effective royalty rates" for oil and natural gas lessees ranged from 7.82 percent to 16.23 percent of the total sales values, GAO said.

"The full royalty amount is hardly ever paid," Grijalva said. "There's too much depreciation."

Officials of the American Petroleum Institute declined to comment on the report or Grijalva's statement.

But the bottom line is that royalties are always legally paid at the full rate specified in oil and natural- gas leases, and the deductions are claimed at the time the company makes its payments, said Emily Kennedy, a policy adviser for the institute.

"Deductions are calculated like taxes. The companies figure them out and they pay the royalty, and the (government) audits their reports to make sure the deductions are valid," Kennedy said.


Coverage of the initial study request is available below.

Lawmakers seek details on oil royalties, hardrock mining payments

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 11:45 am by Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Hearst Newspapers

Western lawmakers are asking congressional investigators for a detailed accounting of the oil, gas and minerals recently extracted from public lands and waters, as part of what they described as a bid to make sure taxpayers are getting a “fair return” from the development.

The push by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., comes as a special 12-member congressional committee searches for ways to pare at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over the next 10 years.

“We’re talking about radical cuts and reductions in Medicare and Social Security,” Grijalva said. But “here we have public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf owned by the American people in which significant activity is going on.”

Grijalva and Udall have asked the Government Accounting Office to outline the amount of minerals extracted from federal land and the OCS in fiscal 2010, as well as the estimated dollar value of those materials. The pair also asked the GAO, Congress’ investigative arm, to detail how much the federal government collected for the minerals in royalties, rents and bonus payments.

Although the U.S. government collects royalties for oil and gas extracted from public lands and federal waters, the same isn’t true for hard rock mining of silver, gold, copper and other minerals on federal land. The federal government currently does not collect royalties for mineral development on public land.

President Barack Obama proposed changing that practice in his fiscal 2012 budget request earlier this year, and the idea has been debated sporadically on Capitol Hill.

Udall said that “an objective analysis of the business of mining and mineral leasing on federal lands” would pave the way for an informed debate about federal royalties.

“America’s abundance of natural resources belong to the public and should benefit the nation as a whole, especially at times of large budget deficits,” Udall added.

Grijalva said the government analysis would add “perspective.” He complained that there has been a “rush to judgment over the last few months,” with drilling and mining advocates insisting that more development will lead to energy independence and new jobs.

“That has been the mantra now for eight months,” Grijalva said, but “we’re having this discussion in a vacuum.”

“Everything is built on assumptions . . . that as we create a less regulatory environment, as we undo NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act), and as we undo other protections, that there is going to be a massive blossoming of jobs and exploration activities.”

Any new data about revenue from oil and gas development — and the lack of royalties from hardrock mining — could pave the way for changes on Capitol Hill. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also has been examining royalty rates charged for oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters and raised the possibility that some of those charges could be hiked.


Grijalva, Udall demand accounting of mining and drilling

Manuel Quinones, E&E reporter

Published: Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M) have asked the Government Accountability Office for an accounting of resources taken from federal land and the outer continental shelf, and how much taxpayers got in return.

"It is vitally important that the American taxpayer receives a fair return for the mineral resources extracted from federal land," Grijalva and Udall wrote GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro in a letter earlier this month.

In a briefing this morning, Grijalva described the request as a response to the drumbeat over the past several months, particularly from House Republicans, for more resource extraction from public land -- including oil, natural gas and hardrock minerals like uranium. He said that in many cases taxpayers may be losing out and doubted there will be a "miraculous blossoming of jobs" from encouraging more production.

"We're hearing these discussions in a vacuum. Let's put this into perspective," Grijalva said.

Grijalva said staffers have been in talks with GAO, which may produce the report by the middle of next year. The news thrilled advocates calling for greater accountability for energy and mining companies.

Matt Garrington, deputy director of the Checks and Balances Project, called the report "an important step to stop the giveaway of our public lands to Big Oil."

Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, called for reforms to institute a royalty on hardrock mining. "When it comes to our public lands," she said in a statement, "we need sound fiscal policies, not an outdated mining law that lets mining companies fleece taxpayers out of millions."

The mining industry says it is not opposed to reform but wants to make sure changes are crafted in a way to foster competitiveness. And they say government policies, including restrictions on mining on public land, are leading the United States to fall behind other mining economies.

The oil and gas industry is also fighting back attempts at increased oversight and President Obama's call for closing what he calls tax loopholes.

"Such a tax increase would reduce capital investment and further impair the growth for new development," John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a conference call today. He added that by holding off on new government restrictions and increasing access, "We could by 2030 create as many as 1.4 million new U.S. jobs."

"As we all know," said Kathleen Sgamma, the Western Energy Alliance's government and public affairs director, "when you tax something more, you get less of it."

Activists, however, believe industry is not paying its fair share. Both sides offer statistics, although previous studies have not eased the debate.

In calling for the GAO probe, Grijalva said he and Udall wanted a "balanced approach. We're not either, or." The goal, he said, is for GAO to find out "how much activity is going on and the return on the dollar."


Grijalva demands accounting of private profits reaped from public lands

Erin Kelly of The Arizona Republic's Washington bureau contributed this blog post

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