After over 150 years under the same regulatory scheme, the United States is in dire need of mining regulation reform—but some of the latest bills proposed on the issue would make matters worse, not better. Northern Center urges legislators to support the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2023, and reject the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act. Read on for more information about each proposal and how you can help advocate for meaningful reform.
Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2023: Real Reform
We urge our supporters to push for the Clean Energy Minerals Reforms Act of 2023, which will soon be introduced to Congress by Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Heinrich (D-NM). This bill would positively reform the outdated General Mining Law of 1872, which contains no environmental or community protections, and has enabled serious harms to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities, biodiverse landscapes, and clean water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 40% of western headwaters are polluted by mining, and the hardrock mining industry remains the largest toxic polluter in the US and in Alaska. Abandoned mine sites continue to harm communities long after mines cease operations, costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars to reclaim, while mining companies have extracted more than $300 billion worth of minerals from public lands without paying any royalties to American citizens.
The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act would implement a hardrock mine royalty that would provide a fair return to taxpayers for minerals extracted from public lands, and would prioritize communities, clean lands and waters, and sacred sites over mine profits. By establishing environmental and cleanup standards specific to the mining industry, instituting a fair royalty on minerals to fund abandoned mine cleanup, and defending Indigenous and frontline communities (most of which are communities of color), and landscapes by giving land managers the ability to balance mining with other land uses, this bill will move us closer to fair and just use of domestic resources.
We cannot sacrifice our communities in the effort to transition to a greener economy. The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2023 would modernize hardrock mining policy through common-sense solutions that allow for secure domestic production of needed minerals, while providing the environmental, social, and financial protections that the Mining Law of 1872 has long lacked.
Mining Regulatory Clarity Act: What it is and why we oppose it
The Mining Regulatory Clarity Act has been brought forth by Senators Jim Risch (R-ID) and Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-NV), along with its companion bill HR 2925 brought to the House by Representatives Peltola (D-AK) & Amodei (R-NV). In short, this bill would prioritize mining related development over any other use of public lands, and remove elements of the already barebones permitting process for the use of lands adjacent to mine sites.
First, this bill would prioritize mining infrastructure and development activities over all other activities on public lands, including renewable energy projects, traditional cultural uses, and recreation. For a just future, we must protect the various uses of our lands, with particular attention to Indigenous traditional uses.
Second, the bill would allow developers to perform “any activity reasonably incident to” mining on adjacent public lands whether or not there are actually economically viable minerals present at the initial site, as long as fees are paid. This means that without any confirmation the mine will be successful, developers would automatically be granted the rights-of-way to develop roads, build pipelines, or otherwise greatly disturb the public lands without the permitting currently required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA).
This reactionary piece of legislation would overturn the findings of the Rosemont mine case, in which the court ruled against a mining company for dumping toxic waste on lands without permits or evidence of valuable minerals at the mine site. We feel strongly that a mining company dumping toxic waste on an adjacent plot of land is a clear indication that stronger, not weaker, regulation and enforcement of mining development is necessary.
Some supporters argue that this legislation is necessary to secure domestic production of minerals needed for a renewable energy development. However, when mines produce more toxic waste than minerals, causing devastating pollution to landscapes and harming nearby communities, unregulated development is not an environmental success. Any legislation aimed at increasing domestic production must include more safeguards, not fewer, and should focus on establishing and enforcing the highest possible environmental and social standards.
How You Can Help
Take a few minutes to contact key legislators stating your concerns about these two bills and mining regulation. Use the sample text below as a starting point, adding in any personal perspectives to your message, and see the links to contact each legislator bulleted beneath the sample text.
Dear Senator/Representative _____,
I am writing to encourage you to oppose the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act, and to instead support the Clean Energy Mineral Reform Act of 2023. The Mining Regulatory Clarity Act would prioritize mining and other development activities over all other uses of our public lands and reduce essential important oversight and enforcement by the federal government. As we address renewable energy needs, it is essential that we balance all needs and ensure the best possible environmental standards for any mining development.
- Senator Wyden (Oregon)
- Senator Cantwell (Washington)
- Senator Kelly (Arizona)
- Senator Hickenlooper (Colorado)
- Senator Bennet (Colorado)
- Senator Sanders (Vermont)
- Senator Heinrich (New Mexico)
- Senator Hirono (Hawaii)
- Senator King (Maine)
- Representative Neguse (Colorado)
- Representative Lee, Susie (Nevada)
- Representative Hoyle (Oregon – district residents only)
- Representative Leger Fernandez (New Mexico)
- Representative Dingell (Michigan)
For more information about mining regulation reform, check out the links below:
- Grist, Mining law has barely changed since 1872. Can Congress agree on a fix?
- E&E News, Citing ‘clean energy,’ progressives mount mining law overhaul
- IRMA, Initiative for Responsible MIning Assurance Standard
- NRDC, Communities First: Equity and Justice in the Just Transition
- Congress, Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act of 2022 (2023 version to be introduced soon)