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Congressman Peter DeFazio

Representing the 4th District of OREGON

DeFazio Fights for Common Sense Reforms to Protect Taxpayers and the Environment from Hardrock Mining Giveaways

Jul 10, 2014
Press Release
Mining reform legislation would generate hundreds of millions to address the legacy of contamination from abandoned mines

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) was joined by 19 other Democrats in introducing the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act (H.R. 5060),  legislation that would reform the General Mining Act of 1872 to protect taxpayers and the environment and bring hardrock mining into the 21st Century. DeFazio’s legislation builds off of a 2007 bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support.

“For over 140 years, the federal government has allowed mining companies to extract hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of valuable publically owned minerals from our public lands without paying American taxpayers a single dime. Adding insult to injury, the current law has allowed these mining companies–many of them foreign owned–to carve up our lands and abandon the toxic, hazardous mess for taxpayers to clean up. My legislation will ensure the mining industry pays its fair share, meets modern environmental standards, and addresses its legacy of contamination throughout the West,” said DeFazio.

DeFazio’s legislation would:

  • Put hardrock mining on a level playing field with coal, oil, and gas by requiring mining operations to pay the American public for minerals removed from public lands. The legislation places an 8% royalty on new mines and a 4% royalty on existing mines. A new report by the Committee’s Democrats estimates that the owners of 46 of the nation’s top-producing hardrock mines would have paid $380 million in royalties in 2012 and 2013 had the DeFazio legislation been law.
  • Devote those royalties, as well as money raised from a fee on material displaced by hardrock mining, to the cleanup of abandoned hardrock mine lands across the country—a cleanup that has been estimated to cost American taxpayers as much as $72 billion.
  • Permanently end the antiquated and unfair patenting system that allows companies to purchase mineral-containing public land for $2.50 - $5 per acre.
  • Establish strong reclamation standards and bonding requirements to ensure the American people aren’t on the hook to clean up a mine if a company skips town or goes bankrupt.
  • Provide clear authority for federal land managers to say no to a proposed mine if it would unduly degrade public lands or resources.
  • Protect special places, such as wilderness study areas, roadless areas, and wild and scenic rivers, from mining.
  • Empower state, local, and tribal governments to petition the federal government to take certain areas off limits in order to protect drinking water, wildlife habitat, cultural and historic resources, or other important values.
  • Provide new legal tools to assist “good Samaritans”, such as sportsmen or environmental groups or other volunteers, who want to help clean up the toxic environmental legacy of abandoned mines.
  • Exempt small miners–those with less than $100,000 in mining income–from having to pay royalties.

DeFazio also released a report that found 46 of the largest mines in the U.S. produced roughly $9.6 billion of royalty-free hardrock minerals from federal public domain lands over the past two years. The owners of these mines would have paid royalties of over $380 million if the DeFazio legislation had been law. Twenty-one of these mines are foreign owned.

The report can be found here.


Signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, the General Mining Act of 1872 was passed to spur development and settlement in the western United States. The law allowed companies to stake mineral claims on any public lands, pay a minimal fee to purchase that land, and extract billions of dollars’ worth of oil, gas, shale, gold, coal and other hardrock minerals without paying a dime to American taxpayers. The 1872 law also contains no environmental standards or financial assurance requirements, and makes hardrock mining the preeminent use of public lands, allowing it to trump other uses such as grazing, hunting, and recreation.

Over time, Congress has recognized that this system shortchanges the American people that own these minerals, and reformed the Mining Law to exclude oil, gas, coal, phosphate, and other minerals. The federal government issues leases for those minerals and rightfully collects a royalty off what is produced. But companies mining valuable metals like gold, silver, and copper still operate under the 1872 law.

Congress has tried to change the law on multiple occasions. In 1993 and 2007, the House passed legislation on a bipartisan basis to assess a royalty on hardrock minerals and reform the mining process. However, on neither occasion could such legislation clear the Senate. DeFazio’s legislation builds on these bipartisan reform efforts.