Bill to reform General Mining Law of 1872 introduced

September 20, 2017

It’s not the first time, and likely won’t be the last time that legislation to reform the General Mining Law of 1872 is introduced, but it is the most recent. In September, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich, (D-NM), Ron Wyden, (D-OR) and Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2017 to update the nation’s antiquated hard-rock mining laws.

Like many attempts before it, the bill would reform the General Mining Law of 1872 and would help pay for abandoned mine cleanup and prevent future disasters, the Durango Herald reported.

Bennet referenced the 2015 Gold King Mine spill that sent an estimated 3 million gallons of heavy-metals laced mine wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers in a news release.

“The Gold King spill continues to be a reminder of the threat that abandoned mines pose,” he said in the release. “Hard-rock mining is a part of our heritage in Colorado, but it is long past time to reform our antiquated mining laws. This bill would provide the resources necessary to help clean up the thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado, improve water quality and prevent a future disaster for downstream communities.”

If passed, the legislation would make seven primary changes to the General Mining Law of 1872:

  • Require hard-rock mining companies to pay an annual rental payment for claimed public land, similar to other users.
  • Set a royalty rate for new operations of 2 to 5 percent based on the gross income of new production on federal land.Create a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for abandoned mine cleanup through an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 0.6 percent to 2 percent.
  • Give the secretary of the Interior the authority to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors.
  • Require an exploration permit and mining operations permit for noncasual mining operations on federal land
  • Permit states, political subdivisions and Indian tribes to petition the secretary of the Interior to have lands withdrawn from mining.
  • Require an expedited review of areas that may be inappropriate for mining.

Similar pieces of legislation were introduced in 2007 and 2009. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 passed the U.S. House by a vote of 244-116 but was not acted upon by the Senate. The Hardock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 would have established a royalty rate from 8 to 15 percent of the locateable mineral production from any new mines on federal mineral lands. It had the backing of the Obama administration, however, it was not acted upon before Congress adjourned and died at the end of the 111th U.S. Congress.


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