RL33908 - Mining on Federal Lands: Hardrock Minerals
30-Apr-2008; Marc Humphries; 15 p.
Update: Previous releases:
November 6, 2008
May 18, 2007
Abstract: Mining of hardrock minerals on federal lands is governed primarily by the General Mining Law of 1872. 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, however, has imposed a moratorium on mining claim patents through the annual Interior spending bill since FY1995.
The lack of direct statutory authority for environmental protection under the Mining Law of 1872 is another major issue that has spurred reform proposals. Many Mining Law supporters contend that other current laws provide adequate environmental protection. Critics, however, argue that these general environmental requirements are not adequate to assure reclamation of mined areas.
Broad-based legislation to reform the General Mining Law of 1872, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 (H.R. 2262), was introduced on May 10, 2007. The bill, as amended in Committee markup, would establish an Abandoned Locatable Minerals Mine Reclamation Fund, a Locatable Minerals Community Impact Assistance Fund, and an 8% royalty on “net smelter returns” from new mines or mine expansions and a 4% “net smelter return” royalty on existing mines. New reclamation standards would be established, and a reclamation bond or other financial guarantee would be required before operation permits are approved.
Hearings were held on H.R. 2262 by the Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals on July 26, August 21, and October 2, 2007. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held an oversight hearing on hardrock mining on federal lands September 27, 2007. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved H.R. 2262, as amended, by a vote of 23-15 on October 23, 2007. On November 1, 2007, the House passed H.R. 2262 by a vote of 244-166.
A Senate bill, S. 2750, introduced March 12, 2008 (Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of 2008), would address cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines throughout the United States by establishing an Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fund and imposing various fees on hardrock mining operations on federal land. Two Oversight Hearings were held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the 110th Congress — one on hardrock mining on federal land (September 27, 2007) and a second on reform of the General Mining Law of 1872 (January 24, 2008). The Senate Energy Committee held a third hearing to address abandoned hardrock mine lands and uranium mining (March 12, 2008).