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Heinrich, Grijalva Introduce Legislation to Modernize Antiquated Mining Law

Legislation comes as demand grows for critical minerals necessary for the transition to a clean energy future

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, introduced House and Senate versions of the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act to modernize the nation’s severely antiquated Mining Law of 1872. The bills will address major environmental justice concerns, protect the environment, and ensure a fair return for the American people.

"We cannot go all in on a clean energy future with a 19th century mining policy on the books. This antiquated law has become a driving force behind centuries of legacy mining pollution that is leaking toxic heavy metals and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers all across the West,” said Heinrich.“Unlike the way we manage other publicly-owned natural resources like coal and oil, we don't collect any royalties on hardrock minerals to return fair value to taxpayers. We also don't have a reclamation fee to help with cleanup work, and we lack a clear process to protect the public lands that aren’t appropriate for mineral development. It’s overdue we change that."

“Securing the minerals we need for our clean energy future cannot come at the cost of our environment, our health and safety, or tribal sovereignty,” said Ranking Member Grijalva. “For more than a century and a half, the mining industry has operated under an outdated, free-for-all claims system that gives them carte blanche to pollute and destroy, while American taxpayers get stuck with the cleanup bill. It’s past time to reject this harmful status quo and move forward with commonsense reforms that protect Americans and ensure a more responsible, accountable mining industry. I want to thank Senator Heinrich for lending his leadership to join me in this effort and encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do the same.”


Regulation of hardrock mining in the United States has remained virtually unchanged for more than 150 years. This outdated system has allowed mining companies—many of which are foreign-owned—to extract more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals from U.S. public lands without paying a single cent in royalties to the American people. These same companies have left taxpayers with billions of dollars in cleanup costs for abandoned hardrock mines and other toxic mining pollution, which has already contaminated 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds. Indigenous communities are especially at-risk; the vast majority of clean energy minerals are found within 35 miles of tribal lands. 

The clean energy transition is driving increased demand for certain minerals, making the need for mining reform even more urgent. The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act updates requirements and standards for hardrock mining operations to be more similar to those that apply to oil, gas, and coal development on public lands. Among other important provisions, Heinrich’s bill will:

  • Require annual rental payments for claimed public land, thereby treating mine operators as other public land users.
  • Set a royalty rate of not less than 5% and not greater than 8% based on the gross income of production on federal land but would not apply to mining operations already in commercial production or those with an approved plan of operations.
  • Revenues would be deposited into a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for abandoned mine cleanup. Additionally, the Fund would be infused by an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 1% to 3%.
  • Allow the Secretary of the Interior to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors.
  • Require an exploration permit and mining operations permit for non-casual mining operations on federal land, which would be valid for 30 years and continue as long as commercial production occurs.
  • Permit states, political subdivisions, and 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, and allow specific areas be reviewed for possible withdrawal. 

Original cosponsors of Heinrich’s bill include U.S. Senators Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Original cosponsors of Grijalva’s bill include U.S. Representatives Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.), Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), Jill Tokuda (D-Hawaii).

Statements of Support

“Fair royalties, the ability to protect sacred sites and sources of drinking water, and funding for abandoned mine cleanups are essential components of a modern mining law. We appreciate the efforts to bring a living anachronism into the modern era,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “As Congress debates options for permitting reform, we look forward to working with all stakeholders to help advance mining legislation that ensures certainty needed by industry while providing the tools and resources needed to clean up abandoned mines – one of the nation’s biggest threats to clean water.” 

“The New Mexico Wildlife Federation strongly supports the pending legislation to reform the 1872 Mining Act," said New Mexico Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Deubel. "This dinosaur of a law has been on the books for over 150 years. It allows foreign companies and others to secure mining rights to our federal lands essentially for free. This law fails to protect lands and waters that are sacred to Native American communities. It fails to recognize and protect lands and waters critical to our nation's fish and wildlife. After 150 years, it's time to stop this enormous government welfare program for the mining industry.”

“It’s time to take our nation’s mining laws out of the 19th century and reform them to adequately meet the challenges that face our public lands, waters, and wildlife in the 21st century,” said David Willms, Associate Vice President of Public Lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “We applaud Sen. Heinrich for legislation that will reform the antiquated 1872 mining law, invest in the cleanup of our public lands and waters, and ensure that the public receives fair compensation for the use of our public lands.”

“Modernizing the General Mining Act of 1872 is one of the most consequential legacies our congressional leaders can leave behind for our public lands and waters,” said John Gale, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “A lot has changed in 150 years and we have a collective obligation to eliminate patenting provisions, cleanup abandoned mines, and establish parity with other extractive industries that pay royalties and have greater regulatory safeguards. It's not only the right thing to do, this legislation will generate new jobs and revenue streams that restore polluted waters and improve management of our natural resources.”

The full text of Senator Heinrich’s Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act is available here. A fact sheet is available here.