Statement on introduction of bill to reform 1872 mining law

May 19, 2023

Friday, May 19, 2023

Long-overdue reform will bring mining law into the 21st century, provide regulatory certainty, and ensure fair return for taxpayers

DENVER – On Friday, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona announced the introduction of the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act (CEMRA). The bill would overhaul the 151-year-old General Mining Law of 1872, which still governs hardrock mining despite being completely irrelevant to today’s technologies and practices. To bring mining law into the 21st century, the bill proposes several urgently needed and long-overdue reforms, including:

  • Establishing a rental and royalty structure for hardrock mining. This would treat hardrock mining the same as all other extractive industries on public lands, ensuring mining companies compensate taxpayers fairly for the public lands they occupy and the public resources they extract.
  • Creating a modern leasing and permitting system similar to that for oil and gas. This would eliminate the outdated process for staking claims that remains unchanged from the 1800s.
  • Setting reclamation standards and bonding requirements that reflect realistic estimates of the costs to clean up mining sites.
  • Requiring meaningful consultation with Tribes and communities.
  • Implementing petition and review processes to consider withdrawing lands that are inappropriate for mining.

Center for Western Priorities Policy Director Rachael Hamby released the following statement:

“After 150 years of scientific and technological advancement, the scope and scale of today’s mining activities would be unrecognizable to miners and policymakers from the 1870s. Yet our nation’s policies and regulations have remained essentially unchanged. Our laws and environmental safeguards should be updated to reflect what we’ve learned from the past 150 years of unfettered and irresponsible resource extraction in the West.

“As we transition away from fossil fuels and as demand increases for minerals to produce electric vehicle batteries, solar panels, and other renewable energy technologies, our laws and regulations need to keep pace. It’s time for an overhaul of the severely outdated hardrock mining legal and regulatory framework in order to provide regulatory certainty for the future. Modernizing our mining laws is the best way to hold mining companies accountable for their activities on public lands and to ensure taxpayers are receiving a fair return when companies extract public resources.”

The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act stands in stark contrast to another recently-introduced bill, the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act sponsored by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Jim Risch of Idaho. Not only would the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act fail to modernize the 1872 Mining Law, it would weaken the law by ensuring that mining companies can dump mine tailings and other waste on neighboring public lands where the company has staked a mining claim but has not proven that any valuable minerals exist. It would also allow companies to conduct other mining-related activity, such as building and maintaining roads, on any public lands without holding any mining claim at all. 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.