Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved comprehensive legislation to reform the antiquated Mining Act of 1872 that has governed hardrock mining on public lands for 135 years.
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 (H.R. 2262) passed by a vote of 244 to 166.
This legislation, first introduced by the Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Nick Rahall, will put an end to the giveaway of public lands to mining companies. It requires a royalty on valuable minerals extracted from federal lands, identifies categories of federal lands that will no longer be open to hardrock mining, establishes an overall environmental standard to mitigate the degrade of the environment, limits operations permit and makes them subject to a renewal process, and mandates lands be restored to a condition that supports its uses prior to mining.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a member of the Natural Resources Committee, delivered the following statement on the House floor in support of its passage:
“It is an understatement to say that the West has changed dramatically since 1872, but this law has not kept pace. Those of us from the West need this bill to pass to protect the health of our communities, scarce water supplies and our public lands, which are under continuing threat from the outdated mining law.
“In my home state of Arizona, hardrock mining has left behind a legacy of contaminated lands and rivers, abandoned mines leaching poisonous metals into groundwater, and other hazards to the public.
“Only a few months ago, a young girl was killed when she and her sister drove their vehicle into a mineshaft that had been left exposed after the site was abandoned. The mineshaft was hidden by brush and there were no signs or barriers to warn anyone about the danger. The younger sister was trapped overnight with her sister’s body before rescuers found them the next morning.
“This is but one heartbreaking example of the impacts of a law left over from another era – an era when the West was not as populated, and when our value system was far different than it is now. This law simply must be updated to today’s modern day values and environmental standards.
“Chairman Rahall’s bill puts those standards in place, requiring clean up and reclamation of mining sites. His bill makes certain lands off limits to mining, as they should be. It also ends the free-for-all that this law has created over the years, where companies have used the patenting process to purchase inholdings within National Forests and other public lands for a few dollars per acre, only to have the federal government later buy them out for millions when they threaten to develop the land. The federal government has spent billions of dollars over the years, rebuying patented mining lands.
“I strongly support the balanced approach that the Chairman has taken with this bill. I am also pleased that the Committee approved amendments I offered to allow Native American tribes to petition the Secretary to withdraw from mining lands of cultural or historical importance to them. Tribes have been just as impacted as other communities by the impacts of mining and should be able to weigh in on these important matters.
“There is an urgency here that cannot be understated. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will vote for this bill.”
Rep. Grijalva’s amendment preserves and protects tribal rights and resources and grants tribes the same authority as states and their political subdivisions to petition the Secretary of Interior to withdraw lands of religious and cultural value to the tribes.
Earlier this year, as Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Rep. Grijalva held a field hearing in Tucson, Arizona. The hearing provided opportunity for testimony on the mining law by local officials, experts, and the public, informing the Committee and providing insight on the economic and environmental implications associated with mining on public lands.