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Letter to Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Re: Support and Address Mining Law Reform

Cantwell Urges Energy Committee to Support and Address Mining Law Reform

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and 15 of her colleagues, sent a letter to Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Ranking Member Pete Domenici (R-NM) urging them to support mining law reform that balances the needs of the modern mining industry with the rights of future generations to enjoy our country's public lands.

March 31, 2008

The Honorable Jeff Bingaman
Chairman
Senate Committee on Energy
and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Pete Domenici
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Energy
and Natural Resources
304 Dirksen Senate Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Bingaman and Ranking Member Domenici:

As the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is poised to take up its own rewrite of the General Mining Law of 1872, we write in support of provisions that provide for strong protections of our nation's natural treasures and sensitive lands.

As you know, the federal law that governs mining of hardrock minerals on more than 350 million acres of public lands dates back to 1872, long before the advent of environmental protection policies and long before Americans were traveling by the millions to enjoy our rich, shared heritage. The American public's appreciation for its public lands has grown dramatically in the last 135 years and the 1872 Mining Law remains an odd anachronism of public policy that does not adequately protect our nation's natural resources.
Our colleagues in the House of Representatives have already taken action to modernize this outdated law; our hope now is that a vigorous and full debate will result in a law for modern mining - one that provides reasonable access for responsible mining companies while protecting our National Parks, the wilderness areas of our National Forests, and our essential water resources. We believe that the 110th Congress can achieve this important balance if we craft legislation that includes the protection of critical public lands and safeguards water resources, in addition to much-needed taxpayer protections. In order to provide the necessary protection for our nation's waters, communities, and resources, the Senate's version of the hardrock mining reform bill should:

* Put Mining on Par with Other Important Uses of Public Lands: Under the 1872 Mining Law, mining is treated as the highest and best use for public lands, regardless of other public needs, such as recreation, watershed protection, hunting, and fishing. Land managers should have clear authority to balance mining with other valued land uses and should reconsider mine proposals where operations would conflict with other important public needs.

· Protect National Parks and Monuments from Mining: The nature and scale of modern hardrock mining operations means mining impacts can reach well beyond a permitted mining area, and many mining claims are being staked in close proximity to natural treasures, such as the Grand Canyon. The government must have the authority to deny mining proposals that would damage the natural resources of our National Parks and Monuments.

* Protect Special Places From New Mining Claims: Our nation is blessed with pristine and untouched public lands that provide critical wildlife habitat and clean water supplies. These irreplaceable and vulnerable areas are not appropriate places for mining and should be protected from new mining claims.

· Give Local Communities a Voice in Land Use Decisions: State, local and tribal governments should be able to put lands important to their community off limits to mining, giving them the right to protect sensitive lands in their communities.
· Establish Environmental Performance and Reclamation Standards and Ensure that Water Quality is Not Degraded: Where mining is deemed appropriate on our public lands, mining companies must have and follow comprehensive and thorough plans to minimize or eliminate negative environmental impact, return the land to its original state, and to assure that water pollution does not occur and will not need long-term treatment. Adequate financial assurance must be posted to make certain that taxpayers do not inherit unaddressed environmental liabilities.

* Accelerate Cleanup of Abandoned Mines: There are as many as 500,000 abandoned mines around the country, many that have long-lasting negative environmental impacts and threaten public safety and health; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it will take an estimated $50 billion for clean up. A fiscally responsible royalty to support a robust Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund would begin to address this intolerable problem.


Sensible policies such as these are long overdue and urgently needed because the threat to our public lands is growing exponentially. For example, in the past five years, mining companies have staked more than 800 claims at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and with the price of gold and other metals increasing; the number of mineral claims continues to grow. In Washington, a proposed hardrock mine near Mount St. Helens National Monument has ignited public concern over municipal water supplies and salmon and steelhead runs; in Colorado, a thriving resort community that is already impacted by mining pollution is troubled by new mining plans; and in Arizona, local officials feel powerless to stop an open-pit copper mine that threatens a highly valued recreation area.

We urge you to support mining law reform that balances the needs of the modern mining industry with the rights of future generations to enjoy and care for the irreplaceable treasures bestowed by our public lands.

Sincerely,


Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lieberman (I-CT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)


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