Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva, Ed Markey and Rush Holt yesterday introduced the Abandoned Mine Lands Cleanup and Taxpayer Fairness Act, a bill to modernize U.S. mining law and establish a royalty program to increase taxpayer return on investment. The bill is a response to the findings of a Government Accountability Office report Grijalva and Sen. Tom Udall requested in 2011 and received earlier this year. You can read more about the report at http://1.usa.gov/VCsOZS.
The bill addresses shortcomings identified by GAO in several key areas. Among other provisions, the bill:
- Establishes a 12.5 percent federal royalty on the gross income derived from any mining claim, to be deposited at the U.S. Treasury. This figure matches the federal royalty already charged on the proceeds of onshore oil and gas projects.
- Requires thorough record-keeping for developing, producing, processing, transporting, purchasing, or selling locatable minerals. The bill allows for audits and reporting requirements to be determined by the Secretary of the Interior.1
- Protects certain sensitive places -- such as federally designated Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and roadless areas, among others -- from future mining development, and creates a process for states and Native American tribes to submit proposals to withdraw any area from future claims. It prevents new mining permits from being granted in National Parks or National Monuments.
- Establishes an Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fund, to be disbursed by the Secretary of the Interior as follows: 30 percent to state or Indian territories based on a formula reflecting existing production; another 30 percent to state or Indian territories based on a formula reflecting historical production; 30 percent to high-priority abandoned sites regardless of location; and 10 percent in awarded grants.
- Directs the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations on reclamation standards.
The full language of the bill is available at http://1.usa.gov/19nx3lg.
"This is about improving our financial picture, our environment and our corporate governance practices all at the same time," Grijalva said. "This industry has been enjoying outdated loopholes and keeping billions of dollars that other industries have paid back to the public. We need to start reclaiming land, cleaning up our landscapes and reinvesting in jobs, and this bill is the right way to go. The public demands action on the economy. This is what action looks like."
"It's time for a modern mining law that recognizes that some places need to be protected from mining, gives taxpayers a fair return, and ensures that companies act responsibly today and in the future," said Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks. This bill stops multi-billion-dollar giveaways to foreign mining companies, gives the public a say in where mining should occur on public land, and protects our increasingly scarce drinking water. It says enough is enough. And we couldn't agree more."
1 - As the GAO report found, "Federal agencies generally do not collect data from hardrock mine operators on the amount and value of hardrock minerals extracted from federal land because there is no federal royalty that would necessitate doing so. For example, as we reported in 2008, Interior's U.S. Geological Survey collects extensive data on mineral production through its annual surveys, but it does not collect data that would allow it to determine what proportion of this production came from federal land."