Bennet Reintroduces Bill to Reform Antiquated Hardrock Mining Laws

Legislation Would Clean Up Abandoned Mines and Prevent Future Hardrock Mine Disasters

Washington, D.C. –Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet recently reintroduced legislation to modernize our nation’s outdated hardrock mining laws to kick-start the cleanup of abandoned mines in Colorado.

“The lasting harm of the Gold King spill continues to remind us that we have considerable work ahead to address the thousands of abandoned mines across the country,” 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 resources to help clean up abandoned mines on public lands, improve water quality, and prevent a future disaster for downstream communities.”

The Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2019 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 spills like the Gold King Mine disaster that spilled three million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“Just last week, the Blue River that flows through Breckenridge, Colorado, turned orange because recent precipitation mobilized runoff from an abandoned mine upstream,” said Gwen Lachelt, La Plata County Commissioner, who recently testified at a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing on the need to reform the Mining Law of 1872. “Communities across the country rely on their rivers the way we rely on the Animas. Our health and prosperity depend on clean water. Reforming the 1872 Mining Law to bring it into the modern age can help us clean up old mine sites and safeguard our precious water resources from future mine disasters.”

“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,” Pete McKay, San Juan County Commissioner said.

“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,” Julie Westendorff, Chair of the Board of Commissioners of La Plata County said.

“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,” Dean R. Brookie, Durango Mayor Pro Tem said.

Bennet originally introduced this legislation in 2015.  

The Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2019 would:

  • Place hardrock mining on the same footing with other extractive industries with a new royalty rate of 5% to 8% based on the gross income of production on federal land. This rate would not apply to mining operations already in commercial production or those with an approved plan of operations. The Act allows the Secretary of the Interior to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors. 
  • Provide for abandoned mine cleanup through the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund, paid for by royalties and infused by an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 1% to 3%.
  • End the public lands giveaway, by requiring an exploration permit and mining operations permit for non-casual mining operations on federal land, valid for 30 years and to continue as long as commercial production occurs.
  • Encourage local autonomy over mining, and gives States, political subdivisions, and Indian tribes the authority to petition the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw certain lands from mining.
  • Require a “look before you leap” approach, and directs Interior to conduct an expedited review of areas that may be inappropriate for mining and therefore eligible for withdrawal. 

The bill text is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available HERE. A fact sheet is available HERE