Reforming 1872 Mining Law Will Help Protect Public Lands, Waters, Wildlife for Future Generations

Washington, DC — The National Wildlife Federation joined with House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) today to support their efforts to modernize the General Mining Act of 1872. Overhauling this 19th century law will help clean up our nation’s waterways and public lands contaminated by abandoned hardrock mines and reduce impacts from current and future mining activities — while ensuring that taxpayers receive a fair return from these public resources.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of the watersheds in the western United States are contaminated by pollution from hardrock mines. With nearly a half million abandoned mines scattered across the country, the cost of cleaning them up could exceed $70 billion.

“One hundred and forty-seven years ago this week, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the General Mining Act of 1872 into law with the goal of encouraging Westward expansion. From rivers running orange with heavy metals and toxic sediment to devastating pollution poisoning our public lands, local communities and wildlife, we’ve experienced the environmental and economic repercussions of failing to update this outrageously outdated law for decades,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “Chairman Grijalva and Senator Udall’s efforts to reform this antiquated law will help restore our public lands by cleaning up abandoned hardrock mines and ensuring that modern mining activities reduce their impacts on our national treasures for the communities and wildlife that depend upon them.”

“Thanks to Chairman Grijalva for standing up to address this nearly one-and-a-half-century-old problem. It’s imperative that the hardrock mining companies foot the bill for their mistakes and operate by rules suited for modern mining instead of our prospector past,” said Scott Garlid, conservation director for the Arizona Wildlife Federation.

“It’s critical to the future of New Mexico and the West that Congress act now to reform this outdated and fundamentally unfair law,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Senator Udall and Rep. Grijalva’s leadership on this issue will help protect wildlife habitat while making sure the public receives fair value for public resources. After nearly 150 years, it’s time the taxpayers and the environment got a fair shake.”

The General Mining Act of 1872 was created in an era when the federal government wanted to encourage people to move to and settle the West. The law was intended to regulate prospectors swinging pickaxes, not international corporations that blast and excavate thousands of acres of land at a time. These companies also use huge quantities of toxic chemicals to extract gold, silver and copper, which pollute adjacent streams and lakes. And because the antiquated mining law doesn’t charge royalties for the minerals that the companies extract from public lands, American taxpayers have lost hundreds of billions of dollars to the mining industry’s coffers.

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