1872 Mining Law Outdated - Mining Firms Apply To Dump Waste In Lakes
Submitted by Western Shoshone Defense Project
By Brian Faler
June 13 (Bloomberg) -- It was designed to help settle the American West. The General Mining Law of 1872 gave prospectors the right to take gold and other minerals from public lands without having to pay royalties to the federal government
Today, 136 years later, the legislation is still on the books. House Democrats, pointing to the recent surge in gold and silver prices, say the law is an anachronism that costs taxpayers millions of dollars in lost revenue. In November, the House voted to impose a 4 percent royalty on most mining operations.
The revision has stalled in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid the son of a gold miner -- controls the agenda and his home state of Nevada leads the nation in mining claims on public lands.
"This is embarrassingly past due,'' said Jane Danowitz, head of the Washington-based Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining. "Congress is scratching around for money for all sorts of things, and here we have an industry'' that "can take precious valuable minerals from public lands without paying a dime.''
Most private industries plying the government's 650 million acres for resources must give taxpayers a percentage of what they unearth. The oil, natural gas and coal industries pay royalties ranging from 8 percent to 16.7 percent.
The 1872 mining law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in the wake of th Civil War, exempts "hardrock'' minerals such as gold, silver, nickel, copper, lead, zinc and uranium from such payments. Instead, miners must pay $170 to stake a claim and $125 each year to hold on to it.
The revision would generate about $310 million during the next 10 years, money that lawmakers say is needed to clean up abandoned mines. While Reid, 68, said he agrees with plans to begin charging royalties, Senate Democrats have yet to release even a first draft of a bill and time is running out this year for Congress to act.
The delay has rankled House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, 59, a West Virginia Democrat, who said his Senate colleagues are taking a ``go-slow'' approach to updating the law.
”We just cannot get the other body to put it on the top of their agenda,'' Rahall said. ``I guess there are certain senators who don't want it up there.''
Reid scoffed at accusations of foot-dragging as "insulting,'' and said the Senate can't act as quickly as the House.
"It takes so long to get anything done,'' Reid said. Critics, he said, "should try to deal with the Senate rules rather than the House where they can push anything through that they want.''
The number of mining claims on public lands has increased by 60 percent during the past three years as mineral prices have surged. Gold, silver and copper prices have all doubled since 2005. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in February 2007 that the gross value of minerals produced on taxpayer-owned lands totals $1 billion annually.
Among the companies involved: Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp., Denver-basedNewmont Mining Corp. and Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.The companies referred inquiries to the Washington-based National Mining Association.
The House plan would impose a 4 percent charge on existing operations, an 8percent royalty on future ones and set new environmental restrictions.
The mining industry opposes the bill. NMA spokesman Luke Popovich saidthat while the industry could accept royalties, it can't live with the "virtually confiscatory'' rates in the House bill. In addition, the environmental restrictions are "deal killers,'' Popovich said.
Popovich said the industry has received a friendlier reception in the Senate where Reid is one of a trio of mining- state lawmakers key to the fateof any changes. Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, is the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee charged with writing the chamber's bill. The panel's top Republican, Pete Domenici, is also from New Mexico.
The lawmakers are "more cognizant of the economic value of mining'' in their states and "are therefore reluctant to simply pass sweeping legislation without thinking seriously about the consequences,'' Popovich said.
A Reid spokesman said that while he backs royalties, he doesn't support the rates stipulated by the House.
"It's all about protecting jobs -- there are people here whose livelihoods depend on that industry,'' said spokesman Jon Summers. He declined to discuss the specifics of what Reid supports, saying, "he'll look at the bill when it comes out'' of committee.
Bingaman said he doesn't know if the panel will produce a bill this year because lawmakers remain divided over how much to charge and what new environmental restrictions to include.
"You put bills out there that you think have a chance of passing,'' he said.
'I don't want to just put a bill out to make the press feel good.'' The delay is costing taxpayers, Danowitz said.
"Every year that goes by you have yet another year where the U.S. Treasury is not capturing royalties on these enormously precious metals being taken from the land,'' she said.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Brian Faler in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mining Firms Apply To Dump Waste In Lakes
By ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY
June 17, 2008
Vancouver -- Mining companies are asking Environment Canada to let them dump mining waste in lakes across the country.
Although companies say turning lakes into tailings ponds is often the best way to deal with the toxic effluent the mines create, a spokesman for the David Suzuki Foundation says the ecological effects on Canada's bodies of water could be devastating.
Sixteen mining companies have applied to be allowed to use lakes from B.C. to Nunavut to Newfoundland as tailings ponds under Schedule 2 of national Metal Mining Effluent Regulations, which would otherwise prohibit them from dumping "deleterious substances" in bodies of water.
When environmental legislation was changed to prohibit mining companies from using lakes as tailings ponds an exception was created for companies already doing so, said John Werring, a salmon conservation biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation's Marine and Fresh Water Conservation Program. Now new mining initiatives are trying to do the same thing, he said.
"It's absolutely outrageous that the government is even considering turning pristine lakes into tailings ponds, especially when everyone's being told you have an onset of global warming and the need to conserve water," he said.
Byng Giraud, vice-president of policy and communications for the B.C. Mining Association, six of whose members are among the companies applying for permits, said putting tailings in bodies of water is often the best option available.
"We have some of the best environmental scientists in the world on this and certainly we work closely with [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] and environmental assessment to determine what uses are the best," he said.
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