Bennet, Heinrich, Colleagues Introduce Legislation To Modernize Antiquated Mining Law

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and several of their colleagues introduced the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act, legislation to modernize the nation’s severely antiquated hardrock mining law.

“It’s long past time we reform outdated hardrock mining laws that fail to address pollution from mineral extraction and abandoned mines in Colorado and across the West,” said Bennet. “Our legislation helps modernize the current mining system to support communities on the front lines of pollution while continuing to support the mineral extraction that is critical to a clean energy economy. Modernizing the system will help improve water quality, protect our public lands, safeguard our watersheds, and support our communities.”

Regulation of hardrock mineral extraction in the United States has remained virtually unchanged for 150 years, when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Act of 1872 into law. This antiquated system has allowed mining companies to extract more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and other valuable minerals from U.S. public lands without paying a cent in federal royalties to the American people. These same companies have left the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs for abandoned hardrock mines, which have polluted 40% of the headwaters of western watersheds. Many Indigenous communities’ sacred sites and lands are continuously at-risk of being permanently destroyed by mining. 

With a growing demand for the critical minerals necessary for a clean energy economy, the need to reform the existing mining law is particularly salient. Modernizing our leasing system would address major environmental justice concerns, protect our public lands, and ensure a fair return for American taxpayers.

The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act would amend the 1872 General Mining Law to eliminate patenting of federal lands, impose a federal minerals royalty, establish a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for the cleanup of abandoned mines, and require a review of certain lands within three years to determine if they should be available for future mining. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Require annual rental payments for claimed public land, thereby treating mine operators as other public land users.
  • Set a royalty rate of not less than 5% and not greater than 8% based on the gross income of production on federal land but would not apply to mining operations already in commercial production or those with an approved plan of operations.
  • Revenues would be deposited into a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for abandoned mine cleanup. Additionally, the Fund would be infused by an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 1% to 3%.
  • Allow the Secretary of the Interior to grant royalty relief to mining operations based on economic factors.
  • Require an exploration permit and mining operations permit for non-casual mining operations on federal land, which would be valid for 30 years and continue as long as commercial production occurs.
  • Permit states, political subdivisions, and 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, and allow specific areas be reviewed for possible withdrawal.

In addition to Bennet and Heinrich, this legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). 

U.S. Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Representatives Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and Rashida Talib (D-Mich.). 

Seventy environmental, conservation, and Tribal rights’ organizations sent a letter supporting the mining reform legislation. The letter is available HERE. Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers also support the bill.

"For far too long, antiquated and racist hardrock mining law has governed mining operations in the United States. In the past 150 years, frontline communities endured discrimination, injustice, and prejudice to receive basic needs like clean drinking water, all for mining operations to produce high yields," said Mark Magana Founding CEO of GreenLatinos. "It's time we address this issue and use our public lands in a way that acknowledges the histories and traditions of those historically and deliberately overlooked communities. By giving land managers the ability to balance mining with other uses of public lands, The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2022 is a bill that would defend local communities and wild places from irresponsible mining."

“The 150-year-old law that governs American mining is severely outdated, offering no protections for communities or public lands that are facing the threat of industrial mining. As we navigate towards a clean energy future, updating our mining laws is a necessary first step to protect people, wildlife and our shared lands and waters against toxic mining pollution. The Wilderness Society is proud to stand behind efforts to update this antiquated law. We thank Senator Bennet for being an original cosponsor of this legislation and one of Congress’ champions on mining reform,” said Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director, The Wilderness Society. 

“Mining law reform needs to be fair and meaningful. This legislation is an important step in balancing mineral production and the conservation of our waters, sensitive public lands, and fish and wildlife habitat,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Coupled with Good Samaritan legislation that would make it easier for third parties to clean up polluting abandoned hardrock mines, we will leave the next generation cleaner and healthier lands and waters. We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership on these pressing issues."  

“For decades, mining companies have capitalized on our public lands without paying royalties and left behind toxic pollution, thanks in large part to outdated mining laws from 150 years ago,” said Athan Manuel, Director of the Sierra Club's Lands Protection Program. “As we make the transition to clean energy, we cannot continue these extractive, unsustainable processes that put profits over people. It's time to pass the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act to bring our mining laws out of the 19th century, put an end to subsidizing mining operations, and protect our communities and treasured places.”

“Hunters and anglers have long-advocated for legislation to modernize the General Mining Act of 1872,” said John Gale, Conservation Director of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “The world has changed a lot in the last 150 years and hardrock mining's image of the one-man operation with a mule and a pick ax is a far cry from the multinational corporations systematically extracting minerals from our lands and waters today. We also acknowledge that establishing parity with other extractive industries that pay royalties and have greater regulatory safeguards in place for protecting natural resources is central to the conversation and important as taxpayers look to congressional leaders for establishing new revenue streams to support better management of our public lands and waters. It well past time for us to do more for our water resources and improve habitat for fish and wildlife while generating new jobs and establishing higher standards for the stewardship of our natural resources.”

“This is important legislation that would protect public lands and end government handouts to mining companies,” said Hans Cole, head of Environmental Activism at Patagonia. “Pollution from mining endangers air, water and wildlife habitats, and this bill would prioritize the health of people and the planet.”

The bill text is available HERE. A fact sheet is available HERE