February 27, 2008
The recent Guest Editorial, "Why mining reform matters to all of us" by Alan Bernholtz (mayor, Crested Butte, Colo.), is a perfect example of a Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome. Mr. Bernholtz, like many of those who proclaim, "I don’t oppose mining; it’s critical to our nation’s security … but" are hypocrites and are really saying mining is OK as long as it doesn’t happen near me. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Bernholtz. At least those who outright oppose mining anywhere are being honest to themselves, the public and the mining industry. Mines just don’t have the luxury of being located where everyone can be happy that they are not "on their doorstep." Mr. Bernholtz wants the public to think that the current laws have failed to protect the environment, etc., and that the legislation recently passed by the House "The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007" (H.R. 2262) will go a long way to correct what he calls "injustices," focusing his concerns on a mine being proposed near his community of Crested Butte.
Yes, there have been environmental problems from historical mining practices that need to be addressed. These problems continue to be brought up over and over again by mining opponents who want to alarm and frighten the general public, but those problems were caused by practices publicly acceptable in the past (e.g. three generations of mining by our parents, grandparents and great grandparents) at a time when environmental awareness was not a top priority. Let me stress; Times Have Changed the mining industry has for many years unsuccessfully proposed responsible changes to the 1872 Mining Law to address recognized shortcomings without having the unnecessary sweeping changes brought about by HR 2262 that will cripple America’s mining industry. This bill is a disaster in the making for the domestic mining industry because it creates many uncertainties that will prevent large investments in existing and future mining. One thing is for certain this bill will create serious problems for the nation if it passes the Senate without major amendments.
The mining industry supports surgical, common-sense amendments to the Mining Law that address the well recognized shortcomings in the current law including the lack of a royalty or a fund to address historical mining practices and reclaim abandoned mined lands (AML). An amended Mining Law must also ensure miners’ rights to enter upon, use and occupy public lands to explore for minerals and to develop mines and use the existing (up-to-date) environmental regulatory framework for mineral activities.
If Mr. Bernholtz clearly does not oppose mining as he has stated in his Guest Editorial, then he should agree with the mining industry that Congress should enact Mining Law amendments that will reduce America’s reliance on foreign minerals; protect public lands and the environment; provide domestic sources of the minerals needed for America’s national and economic security; create thousands of high paying family-wage jobs; and strengthen the economy in rural communities throughout the West, including Crested Butte.
Specifically, responsible Mining Law legislation should at least accomplish the four objectives outlined below:
Enact a realistic NET ROYALTY that provides the public fair compensation for minerals produced from FUTURE discoveries. The royalty base should be net of operating costs and not on GROSS INCOME (the unrealistic royalty structure proposed in H.R. 2262). Shouldn’t the very large capital and operating costs of mining be accounted for, recognizing there will be ups and downs in metal prices?
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Provide security of land tenure to provide secure rights to enter public lands and to use and occupy those lands for the purpose of making a mineral discovery and developing a mine. How else can the domestic U.S. mining industry continue?
Use existing federal, state and local laws and regulations that govern hardrock mineral development, protect the environment and avoid creating unnecessary new requirements. The environmental performance standards and reclamation requirements in the existing federal surface management regulations, including NEPA, effectively protect the environment and require many opportunities for public involvement, as do many of the state and local environmental requirements. How many mines have opened in the U.S. recently that have not gone through many years (i.e. 3-10 years) of public and regulatory scrutiny?
Use the royalties collected on NET PROFITS from new mineral discoveries to create a new AML fund and distribute this fund to existing State and Federal AML programs to address the problems of legacy mining sites like the ones that Mr. Bernholtz references. A new federal AML program like that in H.R. 2262 is not necessary. Existing state, BLM, USFS, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers AML programs have proven track records of successfully reclaiming AML sites. Why create another bureaucratic hurdle to overcome?
I say to Mr. Bernholtz, the mining industry remains open for reasonable Mining Law reform that will address mine legacy issues, protect public lands and balance environmental protection with mining development in America; at this time, HR 2262 doesn’t do this.
Fred Fox is former director, HSE and Reclamation for Kennecott Minerals Company, Salt Lake City, and now manager of The Trapper Consulting, Park City.