Trout Unlimited, Northwest Steelheaders and other conservation groups are making a concerted effort to update the 1872 Mining Law. According to the National Wildlife Federation:
Under this law, mining takes precedence over all other public land uses, including fishing. The Secretary of the Interior is required to sell public land to mining companies, often foreign-owned, for as little as $2.50 per acre. Furthermore, mining companies pay no royalties for hard rock minerals — gold, copper and zinc — that belong to all citizens. It is estimated that since the 1872 Mining Law was enacted, the U.S. government has given away more than $245 billion through royalty-free mining and patenting. Over 40% of western headwaters are contaminated by mining pollution and 500,000 abandoned mines despoil the landscape.
You don’t have to look far to see how this nightmare affects us in Oregon. From the Register-Guard: On the South Umpqua River, a foreign, multinational copper mining company tunneled into a mountain south of Roseburg, quit the venture after 2 1/2 years and left behind an ecological disaster: Eighteen miles of salmon-rearing stream are dead, killed by acidic waters running from the mine. This is a dirty secret from the Oregon backcountry, where hills are pocked with at least 140 abandoned mines. A dozen of them gush fish-killing acidic waters.
According to the RG, the Formosa cleanup on the South Umpqua won’t be cheap. The state Department of Environmental Quality already has spent more than $1.5 million at the site and failed to stop the pollution. Some estimates set the price of an effective fix as high as $15 million.
That’s taxpayer dollars. We’re literally paying for cut-and-run mining companies to destroy our fisheries.
In November, the House of Representatives approved the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 (HR 2262), which passed with bipartisan support 244-166. But the Senate has stalled introducing a reform bill. The NY Times recently ran an editorial, calling for mining reform and pointed to Democrat Harry Reid as the culprit for holding up this important legislation. “Harry Reid, the majority leader, is a miner’s son whose home state of Nevada does a brisk business in mining. Mr. Reid has been unenthusiastic about reform in general and royalties in particular.”
It’s high time to let folks like Reid know that the hunters and anglers won’t stand for this garbage. Email him or call 202-224-3542. You could also give Senator Gordon Smith a nudge by calling 202-224-3753. Smith listens to sportsmen and needs to hear why mining reform is a good idea. Senator Ron Wyden has been a supporter from the beginning.
For more info, check out Sportsmen United for Sensible Mining. -MS