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Some Republicans Warm to Updating 147-Year Old Mining Law (Corrected)

May 9, 2019, 5:20 PMUpdated: May 9, 2019, 7:44 PM

House Republicans showed some willingness to work with Democrats on updating a 147-year-old mining law, although it’s unclear if they will support legislation from the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) re-introduced a bill (H.R. 2579) May 9 that would update an 1872 law that helped spur mineral exploration after the discovery of gold in California. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) introduced a similar measure in the Senate.

The existing law doesn’t require mining companies to pay royalty fees or be financially responsible for cleaning up abandoned mines.

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.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who has pushed to divert more royalties from offshore oil exploration to help rebuild Louisiana’s coastline, said he would back changes to the law in some form.

“I will support legislation that provides some kind of value back to the taxpayer,” he said at a Natural Resources subcommittee on energy and mineral resources hearing on May 9. “It is a public asset and we give it away for free.”

‘It’s Time’

The law covers hardrock mining, which includes precious metals, uranium, gravel, and any other minerals besides coal. A bill to make changes to it has been introduced in almost every Congress since 2007.

Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) also appeared willing to work to update the law.

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

Former Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) pushed a bill to change the mining law that passed the House in 2007, but was blocked in the Senate by then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), whose state is one of the top gold-producing regions in the country.

Amodei later told Bloomberg Environment that Congress should hold hearings on the law in which they listen to representatives from mining states to see how siting and regulation is dealt with on the local level.

The National Mining Association, the trade association for the industry, opposes any changes, as do some of the Republicans on the committee.

“This legislation is designed to cripple the domestic mining industry by making new and existing operations unprofitable,” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, said in his opening statement.

Democrats are eager for some bipartisan support to push the measure through the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said the mining industry’s opposition is blocking movement on any kind of updates.

“There’s a win-win to be found here,” he said. “We need the mining industry to come to the table to find that win-win, and unfortunately we haven’t found much appetite on their side to come to the table.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiffany Stecker in Washington at tstecker@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com