Native Sun News: Tribes urged to support update to 1872 mining law

Leaders of the Navajo Nation examine the damage caused by a major spill at the abandoned Gold King Mine in Colorado in August 2015. Photo from Navajo Nation OPVP Russell Begaye And Jonathan Nez / Facebook

Updating mining law would protect tribes’ water, health
By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News
Health & Environment Editor

RAPID CITY –– Tribes, local governing bodies and private groups at every level should declare support for proposed regulations and two new federal companion bills that lead to reform of the 1872 Mining Law, Montana environmental policy advocate Bonnie Gestring told an audience observing World Water Day at the Dahl Arts Center here.

“These bills to modernize the 1872 Mining Law would require the mining industry, for the first time, to pay a royalty to the federal government for the minerals they extract from public lands," said Gestring, Northwest circuit rider for the nonprofit Earthworks.

“The revenue stream would generate funds that can be used to clean up the legacy of abandoned mines that plague so many communities with highly polluted water,” she said.

The money would be available for cleanup of abandoned claims on federal and Indian trust lands. It could be applied to mining reclamation in counties across western South Dakota, including Custer, Fall River, and Harding, where 272 abandoned uranium mines and prospects are officially recognized among the 15,000 in the Western United States.

Gestring said the disastrous 2015 toxic waste spill from the abandoned Gold King Mine into the Animas River, which polluted water from Colorado all the way into New Mexico, prompted the introduction of the Mining Law reform bill in the U.S. Senate and garnered support for its companion in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 140-year-old Mining Law still in place burdens taxpayers and allows abandoned mines to wreak havoc on the environment, particularly in the West, according to Black Hills Clean Water Alliance and Dakota Rural Action, grassroots organizations that sponsored Gestring’s talk on April 2.

The old law “prioritizes mining over all other land uses, which is interpreted by federal land managers to mean that they cannot deny a mine permit regardless of the land’s other values as a drinking water aquifer, critical fish and wildlife habitat, or valued agricultural lands,” Gestring said.

In the current Senate session, S.2254, the proposed Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 specifies mining production “shall be subject to a reasonable royalty … of between 2 percent and 5 percent of the gross income.” It also establishes the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund for restoration of land and water resources in abandoned hardrock mine states and on Indian land.

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