Today Washington Wild joined 34 local businesses, conservation and recreation organizations who sent a letter to Chair Lisa Murkowski and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee concerning the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017. The letter expresses grave concerns on the critical minerals section of the legislation which focuses on streamlining access and environmental and public review of mining proposals on public lands.
The legislation purports that mining companies are unfairly burdened by process review and fees when actually the opposite is true. The mining industry in this country already enjoys unprecedented access to hardrock minerals on public lands – minerals they receive for free under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. In addition to royalty-free mining, mining companies receive enormous tax breaks for degrading our public lands. Federal land managers at the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management interpret the mining law to give mining precedence over all other uses of public lands –prioritizing mining over hunting, fishing, recreation, grazing, public water supplies, and other beneficial uses.
The legislation disregards very real threats to communities and their water supplies from mining. Mining can threaten National Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Recreation Areas, Wilderness Areas, salmon runs, sacred sites, clean drinking water supplies, agricultural water sources, and our communities’ very way of life. Many of these uses are key to the identity and economy of rural communities, and part of the reason people choose to live, work, and play in areas near our public lands. These changes to the permitting process would stifle public opinion on new mining proposals, while broadening the definition of which minerals are “critical” to apply to potentially any mineral.
Public lands are public issues and as such the use of our public lands should be given considerable chance for public input. Reforming the antiquated 1872 mining law should be a focus; not exacerbating its toxic and unfair legacy on our public lands and American taxpayers.