Yesterday, House Natural Resources Committee Members Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Raul Grijalva (D-AR) introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2014. The purpose of this bill is to reform the 1872 Mining Law, which after 142 years still governs mining of precious metals on public lands. And “governs” is meant loosely.
The 1872 Mining Law passed during the pick and shovel mining era of Westward expansion. As such, it is a law better suited for the “Old West”. Its many anachronisms include: no royalties, no discretion to say “no” to a mine, plus miners can purchase or “patent” public lands for just $5/acre.
The reform measure fixes these problems by establishing a modest royalty, ending patenting, and allowing land managers to balance mining with other priorities — like hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. The bill also establishes an Abandoned Mine Land Fund, similar to one already used for coal mining. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2014 will translate to real improvements that protect drinking water supplies, wildlife habitat, sacred sites, and public health. It will also protect taxpayers from the liability costs of cleaning up mines while employing thousands for reclamation projects.
After 142 years, it’s time for Congress to change this law of the Old West.