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New GAO Report Requested by Chair Grijalva Finds No Reliable Data on What Mining Companies are Taking From Public Lands or How Much It's Worth

Washington, D.C. – A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report finds that other than for coal, there is no reliable data on the amount or value of minerals that mining companies take from federal public lands, underscoring long-held concerns that hardrock mining on federal lands is a multi-billion-dollar industry with only minor taxpayer benefits and almost no public accountability.

 

The report, available at https://bit.ly/2A3U5WT, finds that “federal agencies do not generally collect data on the quantity of minerals extracted from locatable hardrock mine operations—which account for 83 percent of the total number of mine operations authorized to produce minerals on federal lands—because there is no federal royalty that would necessitate doing so.” Locatable minerals include gold, silver, copper and other minerals that are subject to the General Mining Act of 1872, which Congress has updated only minimally since its original passage and which has never charged a royalty for mining on federal property.

 

The issues raised in the report – especially the lack of clarity about what mining companies are doing with public resources and how much taxpayers are losing in value due to the lack of royalties – are addressed in Chair Raúl M. Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act, which the Natural Resources Committee approved in October 2019. The bill requires hardrock mining operations to meet some of the same requirements and standards that already apply to oil, gas, and coal development on public lands and replaces today’s obsolete law with a modern leasing system that protects taxpayers and public lands.

 

While the GAO report does not also examine pollution by hardrock mining corporations, the industry is known to be one of the heaviest polluters in the country. Mining has polluted the headwaters of approximately 40 percent of watersheds in the Western U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Associated Press found last year that  an estimated 50 million gallons of water polluted with toxic metals still flows from the country’s abandoned hardrock mines every day.

 

“Mining on American public lands today means taking from the people without paying for it, polluting public property without cleaning up after yourself, and lobbying against any attempt to tell the public what you’re taking or what it’s worth,” Grijalva said today. “The free ride needs to end. This should be the last time a government watchdog tells Congress that public lands mining is legalized highway robbery. Let’s close these loopholes and start getting a fair return for the valuable resources mining corporations are taking from the American people.”

 

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