Senators rush to keep mining law stuck in the 1800s

Apr 27, 2023

On Tuesday, U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Jim Risch of Idaho introduced S.1281, the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act, which would allow mining companies to dump mine waste on public lands where the company has a mining claim but has not proven that valuable minerals exist. Until recently, mining companies relied on an interpretation of the General Mining Law of 1872 which held that if a company had staked a mining claim on public lands, it could dump mine waste on adjacent public lands. However, recent court decisions have adopted a stricter interpretation of the law, finding that a mining company must prove that valuable minerals exist on a claim before it can dump waste on those lands, and that federal agencies must verify the existence of valuable minerals rather than taking the company’s word for it. S.1281 would change the law to make sure that companies can dump mine waste on public lands.

Cortez Masto claims the bill is “consistent with long-standing and historical application of the law,” but the provisions in the bill are actually worse than the 1872 status quo. By eliminating the need to prove the existence of valuable minerals in order to validate a claim, this bill would allow anyone to establish rights on any available public lands—regardless of their mining potential—by simply staking a mining claim, which could interfere with conservation designations, renewable energy projects, and transmission line construction. Furthermore, if this bill were to pass, not only could companies dump mine waste on public lands without discovery of a valuable mineral deposit, they could also conduct mining-related activity, such as building and maintaining roads, on any public land without holding any mining claim at all.

After over 150 years of scientific and technological advancement, the scope and scale of mining activities would be unrecognizable to miners and policymakers from the 1870s, and yet our nation’s policies and regulations have remained essentially unchanged. As Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby explains in a new blog postit’s time for an overhaul of the legal and regulatory framework that governs extractive industries so companies are held accountable when they occupy public lands to extract public resources.

Quick hits

Senate bill would counteract mining law ruling

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Quote of the day

”This is just so massively out of step for a state that depends on its outdoor economy to support the way of life that we all love in this state. With all due respect to Mr. Rosendale, this is not Montana.”

—Mary Hollow, Prickly Pear Land Trust, KTQV

Picture this

A sandstone rock formation and a tree reflected in water

Canyons are great places to reflect. This spring, we’re feeling grateful for trees, water, sunlight, and towering sandstone walls that make us feel small. What are you grateful for today?

📸: NPS/Verdin

(featured image: An open pit mine in Nevada, Bureau of Land Management)