Bennet Introduces Bill to Reform Antiquated Hardrock Mining Laws

Would clean up abandoned mines and prevent future disasters like Gold King Mine spill

Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, along with Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Edward Markey (D-MA), today introduced the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2017 to modernize the nation's antiquated hardrock mining laws.

"The Gold King spill continues to be a reminder of the threat that abandoned mines pose," Bennet said. "Hardrock mining is a part of our heritage in Colorado, but it is long past time to reform our antiquated mining laws. This bill would provide the resources necessary to help clean up the thousands of abandoned mines in Colorado, improve water quality, and prevent a future disaster for downstream communities."

This bill would impose a commonsense royalty on hardrock mining, updating a law that dates back to 1872 allowing companies to mine public lands without paying royalties. This would help pay for abandoned mine cleanup and prevent future disasters.

The bill is supported by community leaders throughout Colorado:

"La Plata County is acutely aware of the risks posed by abandoned hardrock mines and the inadequacies of the existing General Mining Law of 1872. Reform of the law is imperative to provide both resources and mechanisms to address the impacts of hardrock mining on public lands. We thank Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and his western state colleagues for taking action to help protect downstream communities, their residents, their economies and their futures with this proposed reform legislation," said Julie Westendorff, Chair of the Board of Commissioners of La Plata County.

"The Gold King Mine spill, August 5, 2015, which released an orange plume of three million gallons of acid mine waste into the Animas River and through our community, provided a timely reminder that a 145-year old law is woefully inadequate and places undo responsibility on the taxpayers to address the impacts of this industry on the environment, our communities and economies. We support Senator Bennet and fellow members of Congress in their continued effort to enact 1872 Mining Law Reform," said Durango City Councilor Dean R. Brookie.

"Reform of the 1872 Mining Law is long overdue, and I wholeheartedly support this bill which will give us important tools for the clean-up of our watersheds in Colorado. While Good Samaritan legislation is needed and would help with some mine clean ups, many more mine sites and watersheds would benefit from the provisions of this bill, especially from the funding this bill provides for clean up by finally placing a royalty on hard rock minerals extracted from public lands. I thank Senator Bennet for his leadership on this issue as this type of bill is what will really clean up our western watersheds," said Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner.

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2017 would:

  • Require hardrock mining companies to pay an annual rental payment for claimed public land, similar to other users.
  • Set a royalty rate for new operations of 2 percent to 5 percent based on the gross income of new production on federal land.
  • Create a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for abandoned mine cleanup through an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 0.6 percent to 2 percent.
  • Give the Secretary of the Interior the authority to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors.
  • Require an exploration permit and mining operations permit for noncasual mining operations on federal land. 
  • Permit states, political subdivisions, and Indian Tribes to petition the Secretary of the Interior to have lands withdrawn from mining.
  • Require an expedited review of areas that may be inappropriate for mining.