Congressional mining reform legislation update

January 4, 2010

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From the Associated Press via the San Jose Mercury News:

Among proposals to reform the 1872 Mining Law are plans to implement royalties on mining profits for the first time and reclamation fees for cleaning up abandoned mines. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had testified to a Senate committee in July 2009 that he wanted reform that protects mining, protects the environment and provides for the cleanup of such mines. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is shepherding the broadest plan, which calls for an adjusted 2 percent to 5 percent royalty after transportation and processing costs are taken out. It also gives the Interior Department more discretion on environmental matters and calls for the money raised under the bill to be used for reclaiming abandoned mine lands. The proposal has the support of a number of conservation groups, including the Washington D.C.-based Earthworks. Cathy Carlson, an adviser to Earthworks, said Bingaman told conservationists who recently met with him that he hoped to move the bill out of committee in April…

Republican Reps. Doug Lamborn, of Colorado, and Rob Bishop, of Utah, have introduced a good Samaritan bill that allows mining companies and nonprofit organizations to clean up old mines without liability for old environmental damage. Bills introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., also focus on abandoned mine provisions. Carlson said Udall’s bill, which reduces cleanup liability under the Clean Water Act, has “broad support.”[...]

Lamborn and Bishop’s proposal calls for a 2 percent net proceeds royalty on new mines on public land, an approach that leaders of the National Mining Association believe is a better fit with mining industry interests. Eklund-Brown said she emphasized in NBC interview yet to air that any royalty must be industry-specific and not compared with those paid by industries such as oil and gas.

More General Mining Act of 1872 coverage here, S.1777 coverage here, S.787 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.


S. 1777: Good Samaritan Cleanup of Abandoned Hardrock Mines Act of 2009

December 14, 2009

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This video about Good Samaritan cleanups has been making the rounds in the blogosphere. Click through and watch it. It takes about 6 minutes.

More S. 1777 coverage here.


S. 796 Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: U.S. Senator Bennet signs on as co-sponsor

December 12, 2009

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From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

The Colorado Democrat said Thursday that he’s joining Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., to reform rules covering the mining of gold, copper, uranium and other minerals. The bill would assess royalties on hard-rock mining on public land for the first time at rates of 2 percent to 5 percent. The proposal also would eliminate the ability to buy public land for mining for as little as $2.50 an acre. It would require reviewing whether some public land should be off-limits to development.

More S. 796 coverage here.


ASARCO parent Grupo Mexico ponies up $1.79 billion for mining cleanup

December 11, 2009

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From the Environmental News Service:

ASARCO LLC is a mining, smelting, and refining company based in Tucson, Arizona that mines and processes primarily copper. Parent corporation Grupo Mexico is providing the $1.79 billion to resolve the ASARCO’s environmental liabilities from operations that contaminated land, water and wildlife resources on federal, state, tribal and private land in 19 states. “Through this historic settlement, the American public is compensated for the damage and loss of natural resources resulting from ASARCO’s past mining, smelting and refining operations,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “Were it not for this agreement, these injured resources would either remain impaired for future generations or require taxpayer expenditures to achieve environmental restoration.” The money from environmental settlements in the bankruptcy will be used to pay for past and future costs incurred by federal and state agencies at the more than 80 sites contaminated by mining operations in 19 states, said federal officials…

The contaminated Superfund sites are in Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

More superfund coverage here.


Uncompahgre River: ‘Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed’ December 11

December 5, 2009

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From The Telluride Watch (Gus Jarvis):

The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership will be hosting a daylong workshop titled “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” on Friday, Dec. 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center. Various representatives from state and local organizations will be attending the workshop, which will focus on reclamation activities and abandoned mine lands in the upper Uncompahgre watershed. The workshop’s organizer, Andrew Madison, who is an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer working in Ridgway to develop a mine reclamation strategy for abandoned mine lands in the watershed, said that while there has already been a lot of mine reclamation work completed in the area, the work has just begun…

The Uncompahgre Watershed Planning Partnership is a volunteer group seeking to involve citizens and organizations in the Uncompahgre watershed. Its mission is to protect and restore water quality in the Uncompahgre River through coordinated community and agency efforts. “I am really looking forward to the workshop,” Madison said. “I have had a great response so far and I am looking forward to getting people to talk to each other on these issues.” For more information about “Examining Abandoned Mine Lands in the Uncompahgre Watershed” contact Madison at 413/297-7232 or at ridgway.vista@gmail.com.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.


S.1777 and S.796: What do the bills mean for acid mine drainage cleanup efforts?

November 30, 2009

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From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

…toxic waterways around the state and country — are at the center of a legislative tug of war. So-called Good Samaritan laws seek to lift liability so clean-up work can begin. Those laws, however, are opposed by environmentalists who argue they might erode the strong federal Clean Water Act. The better approach, they say, is to make mining companies pay to properly clean up the messes they have made and are making by revamping the nation’s 1872 Mining Law, which has let the extraction industry off the hook for more than a century…

Proponents of Udall’s Good Samaritan legislation, however, argue that the legislation is not meant to substitute for the new 1872 Mining Law reform bill introduced in the U.S. Senate by fellow Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, a bill that would at last set up severance taxes to pay for cleanups. Good Sam legislation, they argue, is a necessary corollary to Bingaman’s legislation. “You need all the pieces,” said Peter Butler of the Animas River Stakeholders Group. “Even if you did set up a fund with severance taxes, you’ve got to have someone who is going to use that money, and they’re not willing to use it if they’re going to be liable.”[...]

DRMS Abandoned Mine Program Manager Loretta Pineda said fear of legal liability is real and a major stopping point in clean up projects. Pineda said the state is stymied by fear of incurring the Clean Water Act financial burdens that currently faces any third party that would take it upon itself to drain an abandoned mine. “There are several projects we’d like to work on, but we’re unable to do so because of liability,” said Pineda flatly.

In the Animas River Watershed, the Animas River Stakeholders Group has determined that of the 1,500 historic mine sites contributing cadmium, copper, aluminum, manganese, zinc, lead and iron to the watershed, about 34 waste sites contribute roughly 90 percent of the waste-site pollution, and about 33 draining mines contribute 90 percent of the draining-mine pollution. Bill Simon, a member of the group, explained that the group can address the waste sites without incurring liability, because no water is involved. But work on most of the 33 draining mines — apart from 5 addressed by a mining company and several that are on federal land — await some kind of liability waiver, said Simon. Even if the group had funding, neither the Animas River Stakeholders Group nor any other agency is willing to risk being sued for a problem not of their making, according to Simon.

More S.1777 coverage here and S.796 coverage here.


Colorado will score $42 million from ASARCO reorganization plan

November 27, 2009

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From the Cortez Journal (Joe Hanel):

A Texas judge on Tuesday finalized the reorganization plan for ASARCO Inc., a copper mining and smelting company that owned mines around Silver Lake, which sits west of Silverton at 12,000 feet. In all, Colorado will get $42 million from the $1.7 billion reorganization plan. The state will use $16 million for ASARCO’s smelter in north Denver. The rest will go to mine cleanup around Colorado, including the Summitville site in Rio Grande County, according to a news release from Attorney General John Suthers.

“ASARCO’s reorganization is exceptional in that Colorado and the federal government will recover every dollar they claimed for environmental remediation – plus interest,” Suthers said. “These funds will go a long way to improving and remediating sites ASARCO operated at throughout the state.”[...]

The settlement was a happy surprise for Bill Simon of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which works on mine cleanup around Silverton. “It seems like $4 million would be more than we expected,” Simon said. “That sounds very good.” ASARCO owned property and mines around Silver Lake, including the lake itself, Simon said. The area saw heavy mining in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and now waste and tailings from the mines are stacked next to the lake and cover the lake bed. At least one mine is draining acid into the lake, Simon said. However, cleanup of the lake hasn’t been the top priority for the Animas River Stakeholders. “That area is so remote and so difficult to remediate, we would probably like to use those funds in a more appropriate area and get more bang for our buck,” Simon said.

More coverage from The Denver Post (Tim Hoover). From the article:

The Globe plant has been the site for smelting or refining a number of heavy metals since 1886, and neighborhoods around it have undergone intensive environmental cleanup efforts for decades. Rep. Joel Judd, D-Denver, whose district includes the neighborhoods around the plant, said he hoped the bankruptcy plan would move the Globe site closer to being reused. “That thing’s been sort of a blight on a hill looking down on Globeville for a century,” Judd said. “It has the potential to be a residential site.”

Randall Weiner, an attorney who has represented Globe ville residents in a lawsuit against Asarco, said the bankruptcy plan appeared to also be good for his clients. “I suspect that moneys will be released, and they (residents in the lawsuit) will all receive the moneys that Asarco promised them 10 years ago,” Weiner said.

More Colorado Water coverage here.


S.796, Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009: Senator Udall signs on as a sponsor

November 27, 2009

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From the Colorado Independent (Katie Redding):

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall has taken a careful look at mining reform proposals and has announced that he is co-sponsoring the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, a Senate bill sponsored by New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman…

The bill has the backing of Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a former senator from Colorado and the Obama administration. However, observers expect Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to block the reform measure, as he has in the past, to cater to gold mining interests in his home state.

More S.796 coverage here.


Peru Creek Basin: Efforts at restoration paint a costly and complicated picture

August 15, 2009

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Many Colorado water watchers were hoping that the restoration work up in the Peru Creek Basin would be a successful demonstration project for good samaritan efforts at mine cleanup. What has been shown is that restoration projects related to past mining activity are complicated and costly. Current estimates for cleaning up the runoff and drainage in the basin is at $20 million. Here’s a report from Bob Berwyn writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

That amount includes construction and annual operations and maintenance for as long as 20 years, but it’s still much higher than expected. When Trout Unlimited entered the picture, there was speculation that a treatment plant could be built for under $1 million. “All the work that’s been done up there paints a much more dire picture of what we need to do,” [Trout Unlimited's Liz Russell] said. He said the stakeholders working on the cleanup had also hoped that Congress would have passed some Good Samaritan legislation by now. Such a liability limiting law would have eased the cleanup process by enabling a nonprofit to work on remediation without fear of being pinned with responsibility for the cleanup work forever.

One option that’s not on the table anymore is a Superfund designation for the Pennsylvania Mine. EPA officials previously suggested a Superfund listing would loosen up federal funding for a cleanup. But county officials were not keen on the idea of Superfund status for the mine, preferring to explore alternate options instead.

This summer, some of the research at mine is focused on treating other sources of pollution in the area besides the mine itself. State and federal experts are teaming up to find sites for repositories, where some of the mine waste could be stored in a place where running water can’t get to it. That could help reduce metals-loading into Peru Creek.

The Snake River is showing signs of making a comeback. From the sidebar to the article linked above:

Latest survey shows promising signs of recovery
Trout populations in the Snake River appear to be making a comeback after a surge of pollution two years ago all but wiped out most of the fish. Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists recently surveyed a stretch of the river running through Keystone Resort and found evidence that some rainbow trout survived over the winter.

More Peru Creek Basin coverage here.


Silverton: Acid mine drainage workshop

August 9, 2009

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Here’s a recap of yesterday’s acid mine drainage workshop held up in Silverton, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for the Cortez Journal. From the article:

An all-day workshop Saturday, one of the Moving Mountain Education Seminar series sponsored by the Mountain Studies Institute here, brought together 20 people interested in talking about and seeing the consequences of acid-rock drainage – the leaching of minerals into waterways. The workshop was led by David Borrok, a professor in the geological sciences department at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Rob Runkel, Richard Wanty and Andy Manning, all with the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver…

Workshop participants, who spent the day in Prospect Gulch a few miles north of town, got an eyeful and an earful of information. Runoff from numerous Prospect Gulch tributary watersheds feed Cement Creek, whose yellowish-colored channel is evidence of the presence of iron. In fact, the caravan stopped twice to view ferricretes – iron oxide formations with their telltale reddish hue that are created when iron reacts with water and air. An ancient ferricrete was visible in a creekside cliff. The other – a terraced formation adjacent to the stream – is still forming. Iron also is responsible for the color of terrain on nearby Red Mountain Pass – the reaction of pyrites (fool’s gold) with air…

The presence of ferricretes is evidence that some streams in the region were metal-rich and acidic before mining came into its own in the region in the late 1870s, Runkel said. “Minerals are stable in the ground but react with oxygen and water when brought to the surface,” Runkel said. “No one knows the quantity of metals in the water before mining started.” He cautioned that accurate hydrological studies are required to establish standards for cleaning up contaminated mines and waterways.

Later in the day Runkel demonstrated how the dilution of a tracer solution shows the level of metal loading from different sources. Runkel poured half a bucketful of rhodamine, an organic dye, into a rivulet on the upper reaches of Prospect Gulch. A sonde with a sensor that emits light at the same wavelength as the fluorescent dye traces the flow of the additive as it moves downstream. Similar studies have been conducted on Cement Creek and other streams above Silverton as part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative, he said. At the Galena Queen mine, workshop participants tested the acidity and electrical conductivity of water in the shaft. They also compared the qualities of the mine water to surface water. At a well on a bench immediately above Cement Creek, Manning explained how to age-date water. Tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen (one of the components of water) has a half-life of 13 years, meaning that in 13 years half of any tritium decays to become helium-3. Consequently, the ratio of tritium to helium in water indicates its age. Rain will have a high ratio of tritium to helium-3 while the reverse is true for slow-moving subterranean water. “Age-dating will tell how an aquifer works and how much water it can supply,” Manning said.

More water pollution coverage here.


S.796, Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009

July 15, 2009

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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:

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.”

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


General Mining Act of 1872

March 14, 2009

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From Indian Country Today (Tanya Lee): “A new chapter in the saga of exploitation and destruction, wealth and economic opportunity that describes mining in the Americas is now being written in Congress by a representative from the State of West Virginia, a state that has seen more than its share of devastating mining impacts.

“Spanish missionaries, conquistadors and colonists enslaved Native peoples to extract valuable hardrock minerals from their own lands for the benefit of foreign governments.

“While the details have changed, the post-colonial extraction of minerals from Indian country continues to have severely negative impacts on Native American communities.”


General Mining Act of 1872: Modernization needed

March 6, 2009

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On February 16th Gunnison County commissioner Jim Starr traveled testified before a congressional committee on the proposed changes to the General Mining Act of 1872. Here’s a report from Seth Mensing writing for the Crested Butte News. From the article:

During the hearing, Starr told the subcommittee that although “hardrock minerals are valuable natural resources that should be extracted and put to beneficial use,” the law that permits their removal from federal land is “antiquated” and needs revision.

He also said the mechanism that allows for mineral extraction “is not the appropriate mechanism and any new mechanism needs to have sufficient protections from exploration and operations in ‘special areas.’”

Starr said this week, “I focused a fair amount on keeping the water quality and quantity as high as we can, especially given the prospect of global warming,” said Starr.

“We have long recognized that significant natural resources, such as our natural parks, must not be open for location and entry. Before it is too late, it is imperative that we now also recognize the local and national importance of protecting our municipal watersheds,” he told the subcommittee.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


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