Rep. Raul Grijalva

Rep. Raul Grijalva

Two western lawmakers have introduced bills to reform a hardrock mining law that has been in place since 1872, and they are upping the ante on the amount of royalty that would be paid by mining companies.

Rep. Raul Grijalva , D-Ariz., and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., announced the Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019 on Thursday. The House version of the bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.

An announcement on Grijalva’s website calls the current law an “antiquated system” that robs the American people of royalties from mining:

“Since 1872, mining companies have taken more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals from our federal public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties to the American people. The same companies have left the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs at abandoned hardrock mines, which have polluted 40 percent of the headwaters of western watersheds.”

The legislation proposes a 12.5-percent royalty — the same amount paid by oil and gas companies — and an 8 percent royalty on existing operations, except for miners with less than $50,000 in mining income.

It would also end the current claim-staking and patenting system, make some lands off-limits to hardrock mining, and create a fund to reclaim and restore abandoned mines.

There have been several efforts in the past to update the law, with various amounts proposed as a royalty. The most recent effort was in 2015 when Udall and three other congressmen sponsored an act that would have set a 2 to 5 percent royalty on new mining operations. Other amounts have ranged from 4 to 8 percent.

Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid was credited with blocking past efforts, although he expressed his willingness “to consider any proposal for mining reform that protects the mining industry, doesn’t kill jobs, helps clean up abandoned mines and shares revenues with the state.”

Reid retired in 2016 and both of Nevada’s current senators are Democrats.

U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., has opposed royalty legislation, citing the high costs paid by the industry to develop mines, the significant tax revenue they already provide, and the industry’s high-paying jobs.

Amodei this week reintroduced the National Strategic and Critical Minerals Production Act (H.R. 2531) which would streamline the mining permitting process.

“Critical and strategic minerals are essential to the technologies, products, and infrastructure that make our daily lives work,” he said. “Unfortunately, when it comes to mining critical and strategic minerals in America, duplicative regulations and bureaucratic inefficiencies have forced us to rely on foreign adversaries and competitors for critical minerals, a dependency that threatens the security of our nation and economy.”

Amodei says permitting delays stand in the way of high-paying jobs and revenue for rural communities.

“In fact, since the 1990s, mineral exploration has stagnated and even declined in some cases because regulatory changes have caused the permit approvals process to take as long as 10 years,” he said.

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