May 09, 2019

Udall, Grijalva Introduce Hardrock Mining Reform Legislation to Make Mining Companies Pay Their Fair Share

Legislation is supported by Senator Martin Heinrich and Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland

Watch video of the press conference HERE

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) held a press conference to announce the introduction of legislation in the Senate and House to modernize the nation’s badly antiquated hardrock mining laws. The bill requires companies to pay royalties for the first time for the ability to extract mineral resources like gold, silver, and copper from public lands, helps ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines, and seeks to prevent another toxic spill like the Gold King Mine disaster of 2015. The Gold King Mine blowout spilled 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers, and communities in New Mexico are still waiting for compensation for the damage to their businesses and farms. 

The legislation is also supported by U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland.  

The full text of Udall’s legislation is available HERE. The full text of Grijalva’s legislation is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of Udall’s bill is available HERE. A fact sheet is available HERE. 

America’s mining laws have remained relatively untouched since they were established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. This antiquated system puts most public lands at constant risk of new mining, lets industry off the hook for toxic mine cleanup, and robs the American people of royalties from mining. Since 1872, mining companies have taken more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals from our federal public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties to the American people. The same companies have left the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs at abandoned hardrock mines, which have polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated at least 161,000 abandoned mines in the western U.S. and Alaska, and at least 33,000 of those had degraded the environment.

“If mining companies want to profit from the American people’s public land, then they need to pay their fair share and clean up the mess they leave behind,” said Udall, who has introduced mining reform legislation in several Congresses. “But since 1872 – for 147 years – the hardrock mining industry has enjoyed an outrageous sweetheart deal, unlike any other industry, where the miners get the gold and the taxpayer gets the shaft. Hardrock mining conglomerates – many of them foreign-owned with billionaire investors – are looting our public lands, and our gold, silver and copper, without paying the American people a dime for the privilege. And meanwhile, their abandoned minds are polluting our environment with 50 million gallons of toxic wastewater a day and leaving American taxpayers with a cleanup bill to the tune of $50 billion. I’ve been fighting for mining reform for years – and after nearly 150 years, it’s well past time for our mining laws to change.” 

“Our public lands, watersheds, and treasured landscapes belong to the American people, not polluters who don’t always cover their own cleanup costs,” said Grijalva. “Sweetheart deals for the mining industry come at a heavy cost for communities and taxpayers across the country. There’s no good reason to keep giving away our public resources like this, and there’s certainly no reason to make taxpayers pay for deadbeat companies’ cleanups. It’s time to put people over polluters and bring our natural resources economy into the twenty-first century.”

“Toxins leaking out of thousands of abandoned hardrock mines threaten public health and damage our watersheds every day,” said Heinrich. “Outdated and ineffective hardrock mining policies are failing to keep mining companies accountable, leaving taxpayers on the hook when something goes wrong. We cannot wait to take action until another Gold King Mine disaster strikes again – threatening rivers and precious drinking supplies. We must come together and pass these pragmatic reforms to stop future disasters, and protect the health of our communities, our land, and our water.” 

“Outdated laws have left the American people to bear the brunt and the cost of addressing the damage done by hardrock mining to our land and water,” U.S. House Assistant Speaker Luján said. “The Gold King Mine spill is a painful reminder of the legacy of hardrock mining in the West, which has resulted in thousands of abandoned mines that contain toxic materials. This bill mandates that mining companies contribute to the much-needed effort to clean up abandoned mines.” 

“New Mexicans who are experiencing increased risk of cancer and loss of clean water due to decades of uranium mining deserve justice. Yet, they are still waiting for lands to be reclaimed and restored because the mining industry was never required to pay the bill to clean up its own messes,” said Haaland, vice chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. “It is long past time to reform our outdated mining laws. This bill will ensure taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill to clean up pollution caused by mining companies, require meaningful tribal consultation, and update existing laws to preserve sacred spaces and protect public health and the environment.”

Udall’s Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act would:

  • — Place hardrock mining on the same footing with other mining industries with a new royalty rate of 5% to 8% based on the gross income of production on federal land. This rate would not apply to mining operations already in commercial production or those with an approved plan of operations. The Act allows the Secretary of the Interior to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors. 
  • — Finally provide for abandoned mine cleanup through the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund, paid for by royalties and infused by an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 1% to 3%.
  • — End the public lands giveaway, by requiring an exploration permit and mining operations permit for non-casual mining operations on federal land, valid for 30 years and to continue as long as commercial production occurs.
  • — Encourage local autonomy over mining, and gives States, political subdivisions, and Indian tribes the authority to petition the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw certain lands from mining.
  • — Require a “look before you leap” approach, and directs Interior to conduct an expedited review of areas that may be inappropriate for mining and therefore eligible for withdrawal. 

Original cosponsors of Udall’s bill include Heinrich, and Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).