Natural Resources Committee passes mining reform, mining pension bills

Pictured: Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee.(Photo: grijalva.house.gov)

Bill advanced updates antiquated Mining Law of 1872 that 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 mining royalties

News Release

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee

Today the Natural Resources Committee voted to advance Chair Raúl M. Grijalva’s (D-Ariz.) bill to update our nation’s antiquated Mining Law of 1872 (H.R. 2579, Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019) and two bills aimed at protecting miner pensions and health benefits (H.R. 934, Health Benefits for Miners Act of 2019 and H.R. 935, Miners Pension Protection Act).

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.

Chair Grijalva’s 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. Grijalva’s bill and a similar measure from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) would replace today’s obsolete law with a modern leasing system designed to protect American taxpayers and American public lands.

“The mining industry has had a free ride from American taxpayers since 1872,” Chair Grijalva said. “We have to deal with the major consequences these extractive industries have had on our communities, especially communities of color who have taken the brunt of much of the industry’s pollution. Other industries pay royalties. We’ve never heard a good reason mining companies can’t do the same - just a lot of repetitive talking points about how nothing is ever the industry’s fault. You can’t regulate cell phones based on how the Pony Express operated, and we shouldn’t be using a law written in the 1800s to regulate valuable minerals like gold, silver, copper and uranium.” 

“To say that our current mining laws are antiquated is an understatement,” said Rep. Alan Lowenthal. “Today’s mines are overseen and regulated by laws that were adopted 147 years ago by a Congress that wanted to encourage settlement in the West. It’s not really a surprise to anyone, but the West has been settled for quite some time. These antiquated laws must be updated. This is why, as chair of the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee, I am proud to have been able to cosponsor and work with Chairman Grijalva on this critical legislation that provides desperately needed updates to bring mining laws into, not only the last century – but this one.” 

“The federal government should not still be operating under a patenting system from the 1800s—before we had any idea about the environmental impact mining would have on our public lands,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Chair of Chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. “This legislation will bring a much-needed modernization to these standards and ensure they are appropriate for the 21st century. I applaud Chairman Grijalva for moving this important legislation forward.”

Bill texts, amendments, and amendments in the nature of a substitute for today’s markup can be found by visiting the U.S. House of Representatives Committee Repository at https://bit.ly/32Cct1Y.

Markup action on the bills approved can viewed at https://bit.ly/2Bz74wK.

Chair Grijalva’s H.R. 2579, Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act is supported by a wide range of conservation groups.

“For too long, our public lands, waterways, wildlife, and local communities have suffered from a toxic legacy of America’s abandoned hardrock mines. Our nation’s hardrock mining law is older than the telephone and the commercial lightbulb — and as a result taxpayers are on the hook for more than $50 billion in cleanup costs from more than 500,000 abandoned mines. This commonsense bill establishes comprehensive environmental standards for future mining, sets up a fund to pay for the massive cleanup of abandoned mines, and ensures that taxpayers receive a fair return from these public resources,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.

“Our nation’s ridiculously outdated mining law was written in the era of wagon trains and before toxic mining contamination riddled the United States. It's long past time for Congress to fix a law that allows reckless pollution, leaves taxpayers holding the bill, and endangers priceless American lands. We thank Chairman Grijalva for leading this charge and standing up against mining that threatens spectacular landscapes like Bears Ears and the Grand Canyon,” said Drew McConville, senior managing director of The Wilderness Society. 

It can take centuries to clean up toxic mine pollution – it shouldn’t take centuries to reform our mining laws. Chairman Grijalva, Representative Lowenthal and their colleagues deserve our thanks for taking an important step to reform the 1872 mining law and ensure that mining companies, not taxpayers, bear the burden for the destruction hardrock mining causes to our lands, clean water and air,” said Martin Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice. 

"Like many Western states, Colorado has been left with a hardrock legacy of acid mine drainage, polluted headwaters, and a landscape dotted with abandoned mines. Millions of gallons of contaminated water flow daily out of old hardrock mining sites. The necessary reforms this legislation encompasses are long overdue, and greatly needed to tackle reclamation needs, protect our special places, and hold the industry accountable rather than leaving the burden on the American taxpayer," said Leslie Robinson, Chair at Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County, Colorado. 

“It’s long past time to reform this dangerous, antiquated mining law allowing private companies to use and abuse our public lands for free. This common-sense bill would end corporate giveaways, hold polluters accountable for their toxic pollution and help protect important public lands. It will bring an end to generations of unfettered mining abuses that have allowed companies to pollute our waters in perpetuity, harming wildlife and communities,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

"Under the current mining law, foreign companies dig millions in riches out of the ground and leave American taxpayers to pay to clean up their messes. We applaud Chairmen Grijalva and Lowenthal for advancing the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act. It’s time to hold polluters accountable, save taxpayer dollars and preserve our iconic public lands,” said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director at Earthworks.

The House Natural Resources Full Committee Markup Livestream is available at https://bit.ly/2W7QDkp.

Photos of the markup can be found at https://flic.kr/s/aHsmHTNen7.

Livestreamed footage from a press conference hosted by members of congress and advocates before the markup can be viewed at https://bit.ly/2MIP2id.

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee - Grijalva logo
(Image: Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee)
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