Democratic News

“The Committee is conducting a hearing today on two bills, S. 796 and S. 140, which would reform the antiquated Mining Law of 1872, a law that governs the mining of hardrock minerals such as gold, silver and copper, from our Federal lands.
“When the Mining Law was enacted in 1872, in the aftermath of the California gold rush, Congress sought to encourage settlement of the West. Congress did this by offering free minerals and land to those who were willing to go West and mine.
 
“In 1920, Congress enacted the Mineral Leasing Act, and removed oil, gas, coal and certain other minerals from the operation of the Mining Law, enacting a leasing system for these minerals.  In addition, Congress required payment of per-acre rentals and ad valorem royalties based on the value of production of the oil, gas and coal, providing a return to the public for the production of publicly-owned resources.
 
“However, as we all know, the Mining Law of 1872 continues to govern the disposition of hardrock minerals from Federal lands.  While Congress has stepped in and prevented the patenting of lands through annual appropriations riders, patenting provisions allowing the transfer of mineralized Federal lands for $2.50 or $5.00 per acre are still on the books.  In addition, to this day under the Mining Law, billions of dollars of hardrock minerals can be mined from Federal lands without payment of a royalty.  General land management and environmental laws apply, but there are no specific statutory provisions under the Mining Law setting surface management or environmental standards.    
 
“Efforts to comprehensively reform the Mining Law have been ongoing literally for decades, but results have thus far been elusive.  There are a growing number of people saying that finally this Congress may be the time to achieve this long-awaited reform.  I hope that the Energy Committee can consider and report Mining Law legislation this fall.
 
“In introducing  S. 796, my goal was to reform and modernize the law governing hardrock mining, but to do so in a manner that would allow our domestic mining industry to continue to provide jobs and produce minerals important to our nation. The bill  would eliminate patenting; impose a royalty on the production of locatable minerals on federal lands; make statutory and modify requirements relating to permits, financial assurances, operations and reclamation, and inspection and monitoring; require a review of Federal lands to determine their availability for future location and entry under the Mining Law of 1872 and establish an Abandoned Hardrock Reclamation Program to be funded by a royalty, a reclamation fee, a land use fee and excess claim maintenance and claim location fees.
 
“S. 140, Senator Feinstein’s bill, also addresses this important issue of abandoned hardrock mine reclamation.  This bill establishes an AML program funded by a royalty and a new reclamation fee on hardrock mineral production.  Abandoned hardrock mines pose serious public health and safety and environmental problems.  While estimates vary, a recent survey of states indicated that there are as many as 500,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites nationwide, with most of these in the West.  I look forward to working with Senator Feinstein on this important aspect of Mining Law reform.
 
“We are pleased to have Secretary Salazar with us today.  His testimony will be followed by an outstanding panel.  We thank you all in advance for being with us to discuss this important topic.”
 
 
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