WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 16, 2019) – During a Energy and Natural Resources Committee business meeting today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) called for a hearing on the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act, legislation he introduced with U.S. Senator Tom Udall to modernize the nation’s antiquated hardrock mining laws.
“I want to make clear that we cannot wait any longer to fix our hardrock mining system on public lands, and we certainly shouldn’t be looking for ways to expedite permits within a system as broken as this one is,” said Heinrich.
“If you mine coal that is owned by the American people, you have to bid on a lease, pay a royalty, and pay into a fund that cleans up old abandoned coal mines. Hardrock mining companies do none of this. And we see the consequences of this policy every day as abandoned mines throughout the West leak hazardous chemicals into our waterways. Sometimes that pollution is highly visible, as with the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 that turned the San Juan River in northwest New Mexico florescent orange. But even when we can’t see it, old mines are leaking toxic chemicals into our rivers every day,” Heinrich continued.
America’s mining laws have remained relatively untouched since they were established by President Ulysses S. Grant. 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.
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act 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.