I am pleased that we are having this hearing today regarding mining on Federal lands, a topic of interest to me and of great importance to New Mexico and the West. The mining industry plays an important role in our country. It provides jobs. It fuels local economies. It produces raw materials for industry. The mining industry also contributes to our national security.
At the same time, the mining industry has been the subject of criticism on both fiscal and environmental grounds. From my perspective, the root of these problems is the Mining Law of 1872. Efforts to comprehensively reform the Mining Law have been ongoing literally for decades, but results have thus far been elusive. Congress came close to enacting comprehensive reform in 1994, and Congress has enacted moratoria on patent issuance and has imposed claim maintenance fees through the appropriations process.
However, the problems with the Mining Law and criticism of its fiscal implications continue. The failure to collect any payment on hardrock mineral production from Federal lands is the source of ongoing concern, as is the continuation on the books of the patent system under which title to Federal lands can be conveyed for $2.50 or $5.00 per acre. Also, there are those that argue that we must take additional steps to ensure that mining operations are conducted in an environmentally sound fashion.
I understand that there may be renewed interest on the part of many in the industry and the environmental community in taking a serious look at reforming the Mining Law. In fact, there are a growing number saying that this Congress is the time to achieve this long-awaited reform.
This is the first hearing before the Committee this Congress to address this important topic. We have asked two legal experts to testify to help define and focus the legal issues relating to Mining Law reform that should be addressed in any reform legislation. We will also hear from the mining industry and the environmental community.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses. Thank you for appearing today.
# # #