Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, along with Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2017 on Tuesday to update the nation’s antiquated hard-rock mining laws.
The bill would reform the General Mining Law of 1872 that allows companies to extract minerals such as gold and silver on federal public lands without paying royalties, and while avoiding liability for any environmental damage.
The proposed legislation would help pay for abandoned mine cleanup and prevent future disasters.
Bennet referenced the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that sent an estimated 3 million gallons of heavy-metals laced mine wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers in a news release on Tuesday.
“The Gold King spill continues to be a reminder of the threat that abandoned mines pose,” he said in the release. “Hard-rock mining is a part of our heritage in Colorado, but it is long past time to reform our antiquated mining laws. This bill would provide the resources necessary to help clean up the thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado, improve water quality and prevent a future disaster for downstream communities.”
If passed, the legislation would make seven primary changes to the General Mining Law of 1872:
Require hard-rock mining companies to pay an annual rental payment for claimed public land, similar to other users.Set a royalty rate for new operations of 2 to 5 percent based on the gross income of new production on federal land.Create a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for abandoned mine cleanup through an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 0.6 percent to 2 percent.Give the secretary of the Interior the authority to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors.Require an exploration permit and mining operations permit for noncasual mining operations on federal land.Permit states, political subdivisions and Indian tribes to petition the secretary of the Interior to have lands withdrawn from mining.Require an expedited review of areas that may be inappropriate for mining.The bill is supported by leaders throughout Southwest Colorado, including La Plata County Commissioner Julie Westendorff, Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie, San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay and Trout Unlimited’s Ty Churchwell.
“As a general concept, we do support the idea of addressing the mining act, specifically creating a dedicated funding force for mine cleanup,” Churchwell said.
“Mining is a part of Colorado’s history. We are a highly mineralized state, and the extent of the problem of abandoned mines here is large.”
Churchwell said creating a royalty system would fall in line with other extractive industries, such as oil and gas.
“These lands belong to the American people,” he said. “Hard-rock mining is one of the only industries where royalty payment is not made for public extraction. This has been one of our biggest roadblocks for mine cleanups.”