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Udall, Henirich seek hearing on mining act

U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are seeking a hearing on the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act.

The two Democratic senators made the request in a letter to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee leadership. They want a forum for states, environmental groups and industry to discuss mining reform.

The bill would require companies to pay royalties for the first time for the ability to extract mineral resources such as gold, silver and copper from public lands, and would hold companies responsible for cleaning up abandoned mines, and seeks to prevent another toxic spill like the Gold King Mine disaster of 2015.

They said there is a long history of hardrock mining corporations operating on federal public lands in New Mexico. Currently, there are dozens of active mines either in operation or in the process of getting cleaned up on public lands in the state, in addition to new mines that are actively being considered, including one in the Santa Fe National Forest near recreational areas along the Pecos River.

“Mining companies, both foreign and domestic, are governed today by a law that has changed little since the actual California Gold Rush that gave rise to the Act in the first place,” wrote the senators. “Today, this Civil War-era statute gives individuals and corporations the authority to extract minerals from public lands without owing anything in royalties to the federal government – unlike any other industry, including coal, oil, and gas.”

They said America’s mining laws have remained relatively untouched since they were established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. They call the system antiquated, which they said puts most public lands at constant risk of new mining, lets industry off the hook for toxic mine cleanup, and robs the American people of royalties from mining. Since 1872, mining companies have taken more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper and other valuable minerals from our federal public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties to the American people, the senators said. The same companies have left the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs at abandoned hardrock mines, which have polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds, they said. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated at least 161,000 abandoned mines in the western U.S. and Alaska, and at least 33,000 of those had degraded the environment.

The bill would introduce a new royalty rate of 5% to 8% that would put hardrock mining on the same level as other mining industries, fund cleanup of abandoned mines, require permits for non-casual mining operations on federal land, allow for the petition of the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw lands from mining, and require a review of areas that may be unsafe or inappropriate for mining.

EXPLOSIVES ON TRIBAL LAND: U.S. Rep Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., successfully added an amendment to the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act to improve the safety of New Mexicans living near unexploded ordnance, or commonly referred to as unused explosives, by requiring the Secretary of Defense to provide a report on the state of unexploded ordnance on American Indian reservations.

Many tribal lands in the United States were formerly used as test sites for explosive weapons, greatly affecting the safety and well-being of tribes now living on these lands, her office said. The report will provide greater detail about which reservations contain unexploded ordnance, current efforts to remove the explosives from these lands, estimated costs for finishing their removal and the feasibility of the Department of Defense of partnering with entities eligible for the Indian Incentive Program to remove unused explosives from native lands.

“The hazardous materials left behind by unused explosives present both a safety risk to those living in Indian Country and an environmental risk to the land itself,” Torres Small said. “It’s time to fairly compensate Native American sovereign governments that take on the work to protect their members and the surrounding communities.”

Scott Turner: sturner@abqjournal.com

 

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