House Democrats seek to change outdated laws governing mining on public lands

For the last 147 years, mining on public lands has been governed by an 1872 law that allows the mining industry to rape and pillage the environment at will without having to clean up their mess or share their profits with the American people. House Democrats think it’s time to change that.

After all, public lands are owned by the people. We should get a cut of profits and mining companies should be responsible for the environmental damage they cause.

For instance, hardrock mining has polluted an estimated 40 percent of western watersheds, which are ridges of land that separate waters flowing to different rivers, basins, or seas.

According to Wyoming Public Media:

Hardrock mining refers to things like gold, copper and uranium, and Ulysses S. Grant was the last president to pass a law governing their extraction on public lands. The 1872 law exempts hardrock mining companies from paying royalties for the minerals they extract.

In short, mining companies get all of the profit and take none of the responsibility for the environmental problems they cause.

Basically, Montana courts did a good thing by barring a mining company from operating on public lands near Yellowstone National Park. Had the court allowed the company access, the 1872 law would apply and would have given the company the ability to pollute at will for profits Americans would not see one dime of.

And that’s why House Natural Resources committee chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has introduced H.R. 2579 to Congress, which would finally update the 1872 law.

Bloomberg reports:

The House bill would institute 8% to 12.5% royalty rates for mines, get companies to pay for abandoned mine cleanups through a reclamation fee, and give communities more control over the location of a new mine.

Of course, the mining industry is whining because they feel entitled to rape and pillage public lands at will without consequence.

But even some Republicans are getting on board with the proposal.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) is particularly supportive because he feels the oil industry should have to pay royalties and clean up the coastlines after an oil spill.

“I will support legislation that provides some kind of value back to the taxpayer,” he said last week. “It is a public asset and we give it away for free.”

Giving it away for free is literally the “socialism” many Republicans have been fear mongering about. The difference between mining and universal healthcare, however, is that the American people would be paying for universal healthcare through taxes and we get quality healthcare at lesser cost in return.

Meanwhile, taxpayers pay for public lands and we get nothing from the mines and have to pay for all the cleanup.

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) agreed that it’s time to change the law.

“It’s time,” he said. “We should take a look at that and should do some reform.”

Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel hailed the move.

“Reforming the mining law is about protecting drinking water, and holding mining companies responsible for the pollution that they create on our public lands in the West,” she said.

This is one law that desperately needs to be re-written. While it may have spurred economic growth in the West in the 19th and early 20th centuries, we are living with the environmental consequences today in the 21st and the last thing we need is to continue allowing mining companies to poison our land and water resources.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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