Heinrich and Grijalva legislation establishes a pathway to balance mineral production on public lands and river and land conservation

Mining legislation introduced April 26 by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (DN.M.) and U.S. Representative Raul Grijalvia (D-Arizona) would modernize outdated laws governing mining on federal lands, bringing much-needed reforms that accelerate the cleanup of abandoned mines and protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat.

“We thank Senator Heinrich and Rep. Grijalva for recognizing the urgent need to reform the 150-year-old U.S. mining law as the country embarks on domestic production of critical minerals,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “It’s been clear for a long time: land managers must have the power to say ‘no’ to a mine that is proposed in the wrong place, and we need funding to clean up abandoned mines that pollute thousands of rivers and streams across the West.

The Mining Act of 1872 provides for insufficient oversight of mining on our public lands. While the mining industry has made major improvements in its environmental approach, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40% of western headwaters are polluted by abandoned mines. Today, America is on the cusp of another mining boom, this time for the critical minerals that will power the clean energy future. Congress must act to prepare for this rush.

The legislation recognizes the need for responsible mining that avoids, minimizes and mitigates the impacts of domestic mineral production on our lands and waters.

The bills would give public land managers the latitude to deny permits for mines that have unacceptable impacts and establish, for the first time ever, hard rock mining royalties. Royalties would be paid into the abandoned hard rock mine restoration fund created in last year’s infrastructure law. This funding would help clean up approximately 33,000 abandoned hard rock mines that are polluting western lands and waters.

“Mining law reform must be fair and meaningful. This legislation is an important step in balancing mineral production with the conservation of our waters, sensitive public lands, and fish and wildlife habitat,” Wood said. “Coupled with the Good Samaritan mining legislation that would make it easier for third parties to clean up abandoned, polluting hard rock mines, we will be leaving cleaner, healthier lands and waters for the next generation.

Denise W. Whigham