IB89130 - Mining on Federal Lands
28-Feb-2005; Marc Humphries; 18 p.
Update: April 12, 2005
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
Proposals to reform the General Mining Law of 1872 were reintroduced early in the
108th Congress. The Elimination of Double Subsidies for the Hardrock Mining Industry Act
of 2003 (S. 44) was introduced in the Senate on January 7, 2003. A second bill, the
Abandoned Hardrock Mines Reclamation Act (H.R. 504), was introduced in the House on
January 29, 2003. A broad-based third bill, the Mineral Exploration and Development Act
of 2003 (H.R. 2141) was introduced on May 15, 2003, to overhaul the General Mining Law
of 1872. No action was taken on those measures. But because there is some bipartisan
interest in reforming the law, it is likely that similar bills will be introduced and hearings will
be scheduled on mining issues in the 109th Congress.
Also in both sessions of the 108th Congress, the Interior and Related Agencies
appropriations bill supported the retention of the patent moratorium, which does not allow
the issuance of new patents on mining claims. New maintenance and location fees were
established at $126 and $32 per claim, respectively, beginning September 1, 2004. The
amount of the increase was determined by the Consumer Price Index (43 CFR 3833.1-5).
Two controversial mineral issues were resolved during the 108th Congress. One
involved the regulations that govern surface management of hardrock mining operations (43
C.F.R. 3809). A November 18, 2003, federal district court decision supported the Bush
Administration's revision of the rules (66 Fed. Reg. 54834) that removed some of the
controversial changes made by the Clinton Administration.
The second issue involved mining millsites. A legal opinion on millsites released by
the Bush Administration on October 7, 2003, allowed for multiple millsites per mining claim
if necessary. This decision overturned a Clinton Administration decision that allowed only
one millsite per claim.
The General Mining Law of 1872 is one of the major statutes that direct the federal
government's land management policy. The law grants free access to individuals and corporations to prospect for minerals in public domain lands, and allows them, upon making
a discovery, to stake (or ¨locate¨) a claim on that deposit. A claim gives the holder the
right to develop the minerals and may be ¨patented¨ to convey full title to the claimant.
A continuing issue is whether this law should be reformed, and if so, how to balance mineral
development with competing land uses.
The right to enter the public domain and freely prospect for and develop minerals is the feature of the claim-patent system that draws the most vigorous support from the mining industry. Critics consider the claim-patent system a giveaway of publicly owned resources because of the small amounts paid to maintain a claim and to obtain a patent. Congress has imposed a moratorium on mining claim patents since FY1995.
In addition to the overall issue of whether to reform the General Mining Law, two issues
also have been controversial. One involves mining millsites. At issue is whether the
General Mining Law limits claimants to one millsite of no more than five acres per mining
claim, or whether multiple millsites are allowed. In 1997, the Solicitor of the Department
of the Interior ruled that only one millsite of no more than five acres was allowed per claim. The 106th Congress provided a two-year exemption from the Solicitor's opinion for mines with approved plans ofoperation, operations with plans submitted prior to the Solicitor's opinion, and patent applications grandfathered as part of the 1995 mining patent moratorium (P.L. 106-113). However, a 2003 opinion by the Bush Administration overturned the 1997 ruling and allows multiple millsites per mining claim, if necessary.
A second issue involves the Clinton Administration?s revisions to the regulations governing hardrock mining operations on federal lands (43 CFR 3809), which took effect January 20, 2001. The revised regulations authorized BLM to deny mining operations if they would result in ¨substantial irreparable harm¨ to significant resources that cannot be mitigated. On October 30, 2001 (66 Fed. Reg. 54834), BLM issued a final rule that removed many of the controversial aspects of the Clinton regulations. A November 18,2003, federal district court decision supported the Bush Administration?s revision of the rules (66 Fed. Reg 54834).
Three bills pertaining to hardrock mining were introduced in the 108th Congress, but there was no House or Senate action: the Elimination of Double Subsidies for the Hardrock Mining Industry Act of 2003 (S. 44), the Abandoned Hardrock Mines Reclamation Act of 2003 (H.R. 504), and the Mineral Exploration and Development Act of 2003 (H.R. 2141). H.R. 504 would have established a Reclamation Fund financed by reclamation fees imposed on hardrock mineral producers. H.R. 2141 would have imposed an 8% net smelter royalty, allowed for an unsuitability review by the Secretary of the Interior or Agriculture, and established a reclamation bond or financial guarantee and a reclamation fund. Also in both sessions of the 108th Congress, the Interior and Related Agencies appropriations bills included a provision to
retain a patent moratorium that has been imposed annually since 1995. [read report]
Topics: Mining, Legislative, Public Lands