Mining Law Reform -- Abandoned Mines, Uranium

March 12, 2008
04:10 PM
“Welcome to today’s oversight hearing on the two subjects relating to reform of the Mining Law of 1872: abandoned mine lands and uranium mining.  Both of these topics are important in our consideration of how to reform this century-old law.
“First, abandoned hardrock mines are a blight on our landscapes in the West.  While estimates vary, I understand that GAO estimates that there are 161,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites in the West.  These abandoned mines pose serious public health and safety risks.  They also degrade our environment and pose special threats to our most precious resource: water. 
“As we discuss the size and shape of legislation to reform the 1872 law, there appears to be consensus that we should enact a robust hardrock abandoned mine land program.  In 1977, Congress enacted an AML program to address the serious problem of abandoned coal mines.  We are overdue to enact a similar program to deal with abandoned hardrock mines.  Last Congress, we reauthorized the AML program for coal and made other reforms including dedicated funding for that program through mandatory appropriations.  I understand that approximately $300 million per year is dedicated to the coal AML program.  I believe a hardrock AML program should be of similar scope.  Certainly the problem to be addressed is of a similar if not greater magnitude.
“We will also hear today about uranium mining and the programs for regulation of uranium processing and waste disposal.  Currently, uranium is subject to the Mining Law of 1872.  Claims for uranium have boomed in recent years, with the increase in interest in nuclear power.  Under existing law, claims for uranium can be located on public domain lands.  Uranium can be mined with no royalty due to the federal government.  However, I understand that there is also a limited uranium leasing program administered by DOE under the Atomic Energy Act.  I hope to hear from the witnesses why we have this dual system for uranium production.  I also would like to hear what fiscal terms and environmental requirements currently apply to uranium mining, and what changes--if any--are needed.  Finally, as we fashion a hardrock AML program, I think it is important that we understand what authorities currently exist for the clean-up of abandoned uranium mines and processing facilities. 
“I know that the Navajo Nation has had longstanding concerns about uranium mining and I am pleased that we can hear from President Shirley today.  I also want to welcome State Senator David Ulibarri, as well as the Director of the Mining and Minerals Division at the New Mexico Minerals and Natural Resources Department, Bill Brancard.  Thank you to all the witnesses for your presence today.  I look forward to your testimony.”
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