Udall co-sponsoring bill to at last reform 1872 mining law

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall has taken a careful look at mining reform proposals and has announced that he is co-sponsoring the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, a Senate bill sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman.

Mark Udall
Mark Udall

Udall recently introduced another mining reform bill, S.1777, known as Good Samaritan legislation, which frees third-party clean-up groups, including state governments or local watershed volunteers, from incurring perpetual liability for the sites. In a statement to The Colorado Independent, Udall explained that he sees the two bills working in tandem.

“The West has changed dramatically since the days when the Hardrock Mining Act helped promote exploration and settlement in the region.  It’s long past time to update our laws to reflect the different and competing uses for the land.

We successfully passed a bill in the House two years ago, and now we need to see a bill pass the Senate.

I’m proud to co-sponsor Senator Bingaman’s Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, which would work hand-in-hand with my ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation.  Together they create a fiscally responsible path to help clean up abandoned mines, protect our natural resources, and establish a modern approach to hardrock mining.”

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act would reform the 1872 Mining Law that has protected the mining industry from paying royalties for well over one hundred years, even while industries like gas and oil pay severance tax.

Proponents of the bill argue that it would finally require the hard-rock mining industry to pay for the cost of cleaning up after itself. Wrote the Environmental Working Group:

The legislation would help move our mining law into the 21st Century by implementing a first-ever royalty and reclamation fee for hardrock mining and by creating an abandoned mine cleanup fund. The fund would help create jobs in rural communities to mitigate the boom/bust cycle of mining and would help address the estimated $20- $55 billion cleanup cost of abandoned mines.

Detractors, including the National Mining Association, argue that it would “shoulder American mineral operators with costly new royalties, making it impossible for them to compete in the international marketplace.” On its website, the NMA sounds warnings that the bill is not just a “job-killer” but a town-killer:

Legislation that threatens to shutter mineral mining operations in Western states, putting thousands of people out of work and crippling the economies of hundreds of communities has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

The bill has the backing of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado and the Obama administration.

However, observers expect Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to block the reform measure, as he has in the past, to cater to gold mining interests in his home state.

Got a tip? Freelance story pitch? Send us an e-mail. Follow The Colorado Independent on Twitter.