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1872 Mining Law Reform Proposal Falls Short for New Mexico, Western Communities
State and National Groups Call for Real Reforms
Washington, D.C., 1/25: Yesterday, the ranking member of the Senate and Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Peter Domenici (R-NM), laid out an agenda for "reform" of the antiquated 1872 Mining Law that would not adequately protect taxpayers, communities and the environment from the potentially destructive impacts of hardrock mining.
"We have an opportunity to get mining law reform right, not simply endorse the status quo which would amount to "sham" reform," said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director for EARTHWORKS. "We have an opportunity to enact reforms that protect communities, create real funding for abandoned mine cleanup and reward responsible mining companies, we should not abandon that opportunity."
The Senator's plan includes three important pieces of reform, but omits several key provisions needed to protect public lands, water resources and western communities. The Senator stated that he would only consider mining reform that contains these three provisions - a prospective and profits-based royalty, an end to patenting and the creation of an abandoned mine fund. The agenda was silent on protecting special places and significant public lands, giving western communities a voice in mine permitting and planning, and environmental protections.
"This type of sham reform should be unacceptable to any mining company that wants to be a good corporate citizen, protect western waters and communities and clean up abandoned mines," continued Pagel.
"A profits-based royalty that exempts mines currently operating on public lands is an insult to New Mexico's taxpayers," said Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos, a river conservation organization based in New Mexico. "The mining industry has already reaped billions of dollars in profit taking minerals from public lands for free. It is past the time for mining operations to start paying what they owe - a fair royalty on all mines based on the value of the mineral being taken from our lands. New Mexico needs this money to clean up the legacy of abandoned mines left by this outdated law."
One key item of reform that is missing from Senator Domenici's agenda is protections for water resources. The 1872 Mining Law facilitates mining and, unlike other laws that govern extractive industries, includes no environmental provisions. Instead, a patchwork of federal and state laws attempts to regulate the industry. This has led to spills and contamination and polluted 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds according to the US EPA. As modern mining problems have demonstrated, the current system fails to protect western water resources, public lands, and communities.
"It's clear that Senator Domenici is not aware of the devastating impacts that mining brings to rural communities and the environment. These communities suffer from the boom-and-bust economics of mining, while the environmental and public health impacts make creation of a sustainable non-mining economy difficult, if not impossible. Real and meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law must include clear standards make sure mining is conducted in the most responsible manner," continued Shields.
The Senator's plan leaves out another key piece of real mining law reform -- allowing mining to be balanced with other important land values such as drinking water, recreation and wildlife. Under the current interpretation of law, mining is considered the "highest and best use" of public lands, trumping all other uses.
1872 Mining Law reform must allow communities to protect drinking water sheds, valuable recreation areas and other vital resources.