Saturday, July 14, 2007

Action alert: Outdated 1872 Mining Law

ACTION NEEDED ON THE OUTDATED 1872 MINING LAW!

Indigenous Environmental Network

Tribal Councils, Tribal members, Native organizations and others, call your Congressman now to support HR 2262 – The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007.

Earlier this year, Congressman Rahall of West Virginia again introduced legislation to reform the 1872 Mining Law. This new effort represents a unique opportunity for this nation to overhaul this antiquitated law from the 19 th century that is completely inadequate for today's industrial mining technology and scale. The House Sub-Committee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold the first hearing specific to HR 2262 on July 26. We will need more co-sponsors for the bill by the 26 th of July as well as in the upcoming months.

American Indian and Alaska Natives have been disproportionately impacted in a variety of ways: Dispossession of land, destruction of sacred sites, damage or destruction of cultural and natural resources, loss of cultural life ways related to the boom/bust mining economies, with a legacy of polluted water resources, toxic and radiation poisoning and many more impacts.

(Photo: Navajo protest planned Desert Rock power plant and coal mine at the inauguration of Navajo President Joe Shirley, Jr., in 2007/Photo Dooda Desert Rock)

The law was originally written to encourage settlement of the American west once American Indian and other impediments to American settlement had been forcibly removed or otherwise cleared. The law makes very little requirement for mine closure, clean up, environmental remediation, or restoration, allowing the mining industry to leave behind half a million abandoned mines. This new legislation will not fix the historic social, environmental and human rights violations and abuses in Indian Country as a result of unsustainable mineral extraction, but it will fix some of the other problems that are important to American Indian and Alaska Natives and others.

This 1872 Mining Law also impacts Alaska federal lands. Congressman Rahall needs your help. An editorial from the May 28 Denver Post states much of the case to take action; Closing in on mining-law fix The Denver Post Editorial BoardArticle Last Updated: 05/28/2007 10:27:39 PM MDT Colorado wasn't even a state and Leadville's great silver boom was still in the future when the nation's basic mining law was enacted in 1872.

Colorado's been a state for more than a century and Leadville has boomed and busted more than once, but the General Mining Act, signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant, is still on the books. It's way past time for an update. The law has allowed mining companies to extract an estimated $245 billion in metals without paying a dime to the taxpayers. Until a moratorium was imposed 13 years ago, mining companies could buy federal land for $5 an acre or less.

(Thankfully, different rules - including royalties paid to the government - apply to coal mining and oil and natural gas extraction.)

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., wants to bring the law into the 21st century. Like a prospector stubbornly working an unpromising claim, Rayhall has introduced reform legislation every year since 1985. Now, it looks like he may finally strike pay dirt this year or next. The bill would impose an 8 percent royalty on the value of minerals extracted, close places like wilderness and roadless areas to mining, install additional environmental requirements and create a cleanup fund. That last provision would be vitally important to much of the West, which has an estimated 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines, many of which continue to ooze toxic waste (cyanide, lead, arsenic, mercury - that sort of thing) decades after they closed.

In Colorado, there are at least 22,000 old mines, shafts and exploration holes. An 8 percent royalty could raise $100 million a year to start making a tiny dent in the $32 billion estimated cost of a total cleanup. The reason Rahall may be close to making a strike is that the ideal of repealing the law has gained some interesting supporters. The industry says it's willing to work on modernizing the bill. Predictably, it doesn't like an 8 percent royalty rate, even though prices for things like gold and uranium have soared in recent years.

Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of mining-dependent Nevada signals he's flexible but that reform might not come until 2008. He dynamited previous reform plans. Mike Kowalski, CEO of big gold buyer Tiffany & Co., says his industry wants reform. "Ultimately, this cost will make it more expensive to produce jewelry, but it is the right thing to do," he wrote in a column recently published in a Las Vegas newspaper.

We're looking forward to Congress erasing the General Mining Act of 1872 from the law books and moving it to the history books.In addition to the fixes stated in the Denver Post, the legislation would also provide for protection of Tribal sacred sites as well as additional protection for ground and surface waters. It will not fix all that has happened in Indian country and Alaska, but it will fix these two important environmental and cultural considerations for American Indian/Alaska Natives.

(Photo US EPA: Navajo house adjacent to a uranium mine in northern New Mexico. Radioactive waste rock from uranium mine in left foreground of picture was used to build foundation for house shown in upper right.)

Thus far, the below listed members of Congress have signed on as co-sponsors to HR 2262 – The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007. Rep Capps, Lois [CA-23] - 6/19/2007Rep Christensen, Donna M. [VI] - 5/24/2007Rep Costa, Jim [CA-20] - 5/10/2007Rep Gonzalez, Charles A. [TX-20] - 6/19/2007Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] - 5/24/2007Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 5/24/2007Rep Honda, Michael M. [CA-15] - 6/19/2007Rep Inslee, Jay [WA-1] - 5/24/2007Rep Jackson-Lee, Sheila [TX-18] - 6/19/2007Rep Markey, Edward J. [MA-7] - 5/24/2007Rep Miller, George [CA-7] - 5/24/2007Rep Moran, James P. [VA-8] - 5/24/2007Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13] - 6/19/2007Rep Udall, Mark [CO-2] - 6/19/2007Rep Waxman, Henry A. [CA-30] - 6/19/2007Recent additions: Earl Blumenauer (OR), Dennis Kucinich (OH) Betty McCollum (MN), and Sander Levin (MI) First, Tribal members living in areas impacted by hardrock mining should call their Tribal Council Representatives and request that the Tribal Council pass a resolution supporting HR 2262 – The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007.

A draft Tribal Council resolution is available from Robert Shimek, Indigenous Environmental Network, http://us.f520.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=ienmining@igc.org, 218-751-4967 or Bonnie Gestring, Earthworks, http://us.f520.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=bgestring@mineralpolicy.org, 406-549-7361.

Tribal Councils should than send the finalized resolution to members of Congress. Second, Tribal members, Native organizations and everyone else who cares about environmentally and socially responsible hardrock mining should call their Congressional Representatives and ask them to co-sponsor HR 2262 – The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007. If your Representative has already signed on as a co-sponsor, call them anyway and thank them for their support as well as encourage them to make sure the provisions critical to American Indian/Alaska Natives stay in the Bill.


(Photo: Gold mining cores out mountain tops in Western Shoshone Territory)

For additional information, see;The Earthworks mining reform home page: http://www.miningreform.org/.
Earthworks' brief explanation of the WHY behind each section, called Principles of Reform: http://www.mineralpolicy.org/PrinciplesOfReform.cfm.
The full text of HR 2262 (112 pages): http://www.mineralpolicy.org/pubs/HR2262.pdf.
[The "Protection of Special Places" section begins on page 24, Title III, p. 39 (J) is of notable interest for those mining locations prone to acid mine drainage.]

Tom B.K. Goldtooth
Executive DirectorIndigenous Environmental Network
PO Box 485Bemidji, MN 56619
USAEmail: http://us.f520.mail.yahoo.com/ym/Compose?To=ien@igc.org
Web: http://www.ienearth.org/

Top photo: Wyoming coal mine/Office of Surface Mining

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