From MineWeb (Dorothy Kosich):
As environmental special interests congratulated themselves for U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s declaration Tuesday that mining law reform is a top priority for the Obama Administration, lost among the rhetoric and news coverage was Salazar’s equally important declaration. “In my view, our own security depends on maintaining a viable domestic mining industry,” Salazar told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday. “Minerals are also needed to support development of renewable energy,” he added. Nevertheless, Salazar remained firm in his belief the U.S. mining industry must come to grips with meaningful reform of the 1872 Mining Law, patent reform, and addressing the environmental consequences of modern mining practices “in meaningful and substantive ways.” “In addition, the American taxpayer should receive a fair return for the extraction of these valuable resources and should expect the federal government to develop a reliable process providing for the cleanup and restoration of lands where the responsible party is unable or unavailable to do so, including a Good Samaritan provision,” he advised. Salazar speaks from first-hand experience as much of his Colorado regulatory career was devoted to overseeing and/or participation in the cleanup of the Summitville Mine Superfund site in his state.
Here’s the full text of Secretary Salazar’s statement yesterday:
Thank you, Chairman Bingaman, Senator Murkowski, and Members of the Committee. I am here today to discuss with you reform of the General Mining Law of 1872, a complex matter and one that engenders passionate views. Along with most of you, I have spent much time working on various aspects of such reform. I am committed to working with you to develop legislation that will accomplish the following: provide industry with the regulatory certainty needed to make the investments that produce mineral resources vital to our economy; provide a fair return to the public for mining activities that occur on public lands; protect the environment; and result in the cleanup of abandoned mines.
Balance – Energy Development
Before I turn to Mining Law reform, I want to thank the Committee for its work in reporting bipartisan energy legislation. I look forward to working with the Members of the Committee in the days ahead to address the challenges of energy and climate change.
The last time I appeared before the Committee, I spoke about President Obama’s agenda for energy development on the public lands and the Outer Continental Shelf. While we have a lot of work ahead of us on that front, we have made great strides at the Department under our existing authorities as key steps on a comprehensive energy plan for the Nation. We are balancing the responsible development of conventional energy sources, while protecting our treasured landscapes, wildlife, and cultural resources, with the accelerated development of clean energy from renewable domestic sources.
With regard to conventional resources, since January the Department has offered more than 2.3 million acres on our public lands for oil and gas development in 17 lease sales, with over 780,000 of those acres going under lease and attracting more than $60 million in bonus bids and fees. We have plans for another 20 sales in the next six months, onshore.
Concerning the Outer Continental Shelf, during the third week in March, I traveled to New Orleans with the Minerals Management Service to attend the Central Gulf of Mexico Oil and Gas Lease Sale 208, which attracted over $700 million in high bids, with 70 companies submitting 476 bids on 348 tracts comprising over 1.9 million acres offshore the States of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
On the matter relating to oil shale, we will announce a second round of research, development, and demonstration leases in Colorado and Utah in the near future.
We continue working on a plan for the Outer Continental Shelf. I extended the public comment period on the Draft Proposed 5-year Plan produced by the previous Administration until September 21, 2009. At that time I also requested from Departmental scientists a report that detailed conventional and renewable offshore energy resources and identified where information gaps exist. I held regional meetings with interested stakeholders to review the findings of that report and gather input on where and how we should proceed with offshore energy development. I also crafted an agreement with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Wellinghoff clarifying jurisdictional responsibilities for our respective agencies for leasing and licensing renewable energy projects on the OCS, which will help facilitate the development of wind, solar, wave, tidal and ocean current energy sources. Several weeks ago I announced the issuance of five exploratory leases for renewable energy production offshore of New Jersey and Delaware.
We are also moving rapidly to implement the President’s renewable energy strategy onshore. During the last week in June the Senate Majority Leader Reid and I announced a plan to expedite development of solar energy projects on BLM lands in six western states. The two dozen Solar Energy Study Areas will be evaluated for their environmental and resource suitability for large-scale solar energy production, providing a more efficient process for permitting and siting, and could ultimately generate nearly 100,000 megawatts of solar electricity.
Balance – Mining Reform
Balance is also an important concept as we discuss reform of the Mining Law of 1872. While the responsible development of our mineral resources is critical to both our economy and our environment, this statute has not been updated in 137 years. In those years, much has changed. As I previously noted, it is time to ensure a fair return to the public for mining activities that occur on public lands and to address the cleanup of abandoned mines. We must find an approach to modernize this law and ensure that development occurs in a manner consistent with the needs of mining and the protection of the public, our public lands, and water resources. It is time to make reform of the Mining Law part of our agenda of responsible resource development.
Much has been said about the role the General Mining Law of 1872 played in settling the western United States, how it provided an opportunity for any citizen of the country to explore public domain lands for valuable minerals, to stake a claim if the mineral could be extracted at a profit, and to patent the claim. Numerous commodities are mined, under the authority of the General Mining Law, to provide the raw materials essential for the manufacturing and building industries. According to the BLM, the 5-year average for new mining claims staked annually under the law is approximately 76,000, with a current total number of claims at nearly 400,000. These claims generated almost $60 million in federal revenue– mostly from the fees collected by BLM — in fiscal year 2008.
Our domestic gold mining industry alone directly or indirectly creates more than 66,000 jobs and nearly $2 billion in earnings annually. The United States is the second largest producer of gold and copper in the world, and the leading producer of beryllium, gypsum, and molybdenum. In my view, our own security depends on maintaining a viable domestic mining industry. Metals and minerals are also needed to support development of renewable energy.
As the United States Senate undertakes reform of the 1872 Mining Law, patent reform, and the environmental consequences of modern mining practices must be addressed in meaningful and substantive ways. In addition, the American taxpayer should receive a fair return for the extraction of these valuable resources and should expect the federal government to develop a reliable process providing for the cleanup and restoration of lands where the responsible party is unable or unavailable to do so, including a Good Samaritan provision.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for giving me the opportunity to present you the Administration’s thoughts on this important topic. We look forward to working with the Committee and all interested parties as this process moves forward.
More from the MineWeb article:
Cathy Carlson, policy advisor for Earthworks, urged the committee to include the following principles in its update of the mining law including:
•1. Eliminate patenting of federal lands
•2. Establish a royalty for mineral production and a fee for use of federal lands for mineral activities
•3. Enable land managers to say “no” to a mining project on federal lands when conflicts exist with other resource uses
•4. Adopt comprehensive reclamation requirements, with particular emphasis on protection of water resources
•5. Ensure that a financial assurance is in place and adequate to cover the cost of mine reclamation
•6. Create an abandoned mine program with adequate funding to address a backlog of public safety and pollution from old mines
In her testimony, Carlson claimed that S.796 “falls short in its consideration in the water related impacts of mining. …Congress should go further and deny mining operations that will become permanent sources of pollution on federal lands in the West.”
More coverage from the Denver Daily News:
A group of 20 state Democrats have written to U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, supporting two pieces of mining reform legislation. It is the first time since 1993 that federal mining reform legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate. “I urge you to join as a cosponsor to signal your strong interest in reforming this outdated law and creating a new legal framework that will protect Colorado communities and taxpayers while allowing for responsible mining and the accelerated cleanup of abandoned mines,” wrote the lawmakers to Udall and the rest of the Colorado Congressional delegation. Environmental groups say mining has left a “lasting legacy of pollution” throughout the state. Citing the Environmental Protection Agency, they believe 40 percent of all Western watersheds have been impacted from mining pollution. “We’re going back to the future on 1872 mining reform,” said Garrington. “This legislation is long overdue.”
More coverage from Mother Jones (Josh Harkinson):
Who says the arcane job of rewriting the laws that govern hard-rock mining isn’t of interest to Joe Sixpack? Certainly not Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who in testifying before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources today, deftly linked the reform of the nation’s mining laws to the production of better beer. “Relative to the water that was used for Coors beer,” the former Colorado Senator said, “we know that Clear Creek comes off the headwaters. . .where we have thousands of abandoned mines.”