Dems Would Revamp 'Hardrock Mining Law'
Debra Kahn, E&E – May 11th, 2007
The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee introduced legislation yesterday aimed at reforming the 1872 hardrock mining law that allows companies to avoid paying royalties on minerals taken from public lands.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chairman Jim Costa (D-Calif.) are sponsoring the "Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007," H.R. 2262, which would impose an 8 percent royalty on the net production of minerals on claims filed under the law.
It would also identify types of federal land to place off-limits to mining and require mine operators to submit reclamation plans before they receive mining permits. "It is far past the time for responsible reform of the Jurassic Park of all federal laws," Rahall said at a news briefing.
Tiffany & Co. Chairman and CEO Mike Kowalski, who appeared with Rahall and Costa, said his company's support for the bill was "motivated by self-interest.""We desperately need new mines in this country," Kowalski said. "This bill is a hugely important step in the right direction."
The government has missed more than $245 million in royalties on mineral reserves since the mining law was enacted 135 years ago, Rahall said. And taxpayers will eventually be burdened by an estimated $32 billion bill for cleaning up thousands of abandoned mines, he said. The law would affect up to 270 million acres of public lands, Rahall added.
Claimholders can acquire public land through the patenting process for as little as $2.50 per acre under the existing law. Congress has renewed a temporary moratorium on such land purchases every year since 1994.
Gold, uranium and other minerals are selling at record-high prices and production is at historic highs, particularly in Nevada, Arizona and California, Rahall said. The congressman said he has "reached out" to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- who has opposed mining reform in the past -- and held "lengthy discussions" on the bill's intent. Reid told the Associated Press he did not expect a hardrock-mining reform bill to surface in the Senate this year. "We have a lot of things to do," Reid said. "It won't be this year."
Reid opposed efforts in the the mid-1990s to reform the law. He told the AP that such efforts were spurred then by "people ... interested in destroying hardrock mining."
The bill marks the fourth time Rahall has tried to reform the law since 1985. "We are cognizant of factors that stymied the '80s bill," Rahall said, as well as "political problems that plagued" the 1994 Senate conference." He said Reid agreed with him "on the goal of fair returns to the American taxpayers."
Other past efforts to reform the law have included former Reps. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Jim Gibbons' (R-Nev.) attempt to insert language into the House-passed budget in 2005 that would have lifted the moratorium on mining patents and raised the land price to $1,000 per acre (E&E Daily, Dec. 12, 2005).
Costa said he planned to hold at least one field hearing later this year and move the bill to the full Natural Resources Committee by the end of this year or early next.
Along with legislative action, mining companies and retailers are taking voluntary action in the form of nonbinding standards for cyanide and mercury management, labor standards, public disclosure and emergency response. Tiffany & Co., Earthworks, Newmont Mining and BHP Billiton are among the supporters of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance, which is meeting this fall to draft initial standards.
Earthworks President Stephen D'Esposito speculated last week that mining companies were willing to subject themselves to voluntary standards in anticipation of the "regulatory noose" tightening over time (Greenwire, May 4).
The National Mining Association released a statement Wednesday saying it wanted any mining law to recognize existing authority over the closure of areas to mining, as well as ensure "security of title and tenure" throughout a mine's operations. "We look forward to working with Chairman Rahall and ranking member Don Young (R-Alaska) as the HouseNatural Resources Committee begins consideration of amendments to the law," the industry group said.
Rahall said he would not rule out any potential amendments, which could include "Good Samaritan" provisions for companies that conduct voluntary cleanup efforts. He also said he was not wedded to the royalty method of compensation as the only method of payment. He said he had no feedback from the Bush administration yet.
Miners Stunned! Environmentalists Cheer!
Submitted by Western Shoshone Defense Project
By Bob Weber, The Canadian Press, May 9th, ‘07
(CP) - Miners are stunned and environmentalists cheering over a northern regulator's recommendation that a uranium exploration project be denied because it threatens the spiritual and cultural well-being of the area's Dene people.
The Mackenzie Valley Environmental Impact Review Board says Ur-Energy's (TSX:URE) plan to drill up to 20 holes near the Thelon River should not proceed under any circumstances.
"Although the proposed development is physically small, the potential cultural impacts are not," says the board in a written decision. It is only the second time in the board's history that it has dismissed a project outright.
It's now up to federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice to decide whether to accept the recommendation, which throws doubt on the future of hundreds of mineral leases and claims in a vast area of the Northwest Territories.
"It's a major concern if you can't run a minimal-impact exploration program," Mike Vaydik of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut Chamber of Mines said Wednesday." Mineral exploration in the southeast part of the N.W.T. is basically stopped." Monte Hummel of the World Wildlife Fund agreed."This stands to have a serious impact on not just this project," he said. "That's what the people who live there want." Ur-Energy described the decision as a delay.
In a release, company president Bob Boberg said Ur-Energy is disappointed with the review board's recommendation and "will continue to pursue any and all approaches that will allow us to advance exploration." Boberg said Ur-Energy would discuss the recommendation with Prentice. The Thelon Basin is considered one of the earth's last pristine wildernesses.
During hearings on the project, one ecotourism outfitter said he'd spotted six grizzlies, 12 moose, 20 wolves, 100 muskox and 100,000 caribou on a single trip. Residents from the community of Lutsel K'e described the area as "the place where God began" and "the heart and soul of the Dene."
"(The) Thelon River is Thaydene Nene. Thaydene Nene is our ancestors," elder Bernadette Lockheart said in her testimony. Even a single exploration camp is too much for such hallowed ground, testified 13-year-old Michael Lafferty. "If you do find uranium, you'll try to get it, right?" he asked. "It's better just not to check. Just leave it there."
The area drained by the Thelon River, which flows from the N.W.T. into Nunavut, has been the subject of an intense staking rush in recent years. At least 40 companies are prodding the tundra for uranium after prices for the silvery metal grew from $7 a pound a few years ago to over $100 now. They have registered hundreds of prospecting permits, claims and mineral leases - 1,000 such dispositions on the N.W.T. side alone.
Nunavut has identified 405 prospecting permits that may conflict with ecological values .Some permits overlap proposed conservation areas or territorial parks. The area is also subject to an agreement between Ottawa and the Akaitcho Dene not to make any decisions on the land for five years pending a land-claim settlement. That interim land withdrawal is currently awaiting cabinet approval. As well, part of the region has been singled out by Environment Minister John Baird for the creation of East Arm National Park near the east arm of Great Slave Lake.
Earlier this week, Lutsel K'e Chief Adeline Jonasson sent an open letter to all resource companies saying they shouldn't bother asking about development on the Thelon because the Dene aren't interested."We are in complete opposition to having a mine in the Thelon area, and therefore will not support even the initial stages of such a possibility," she wrote.
The board says Canada's mining regulations contribute to the problem by allowing prospectors to stake claims before consulting area aboriginals, and then giving those claims precedence in any subsequent land talks.
As the quickening pace of northern industrial development runs head-on into land claims and environmental concerns, it's time the federal government dealt with tough land-use questions, said Hummel.
"As you delay more and more, mineral permits of one kind or another are being issued," he said. "It's fragmenting and reducing the area the (Dene) said they wanted to protect.
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