Senator Feinstein Renews Calls for Swift Action in Congress to Create Steady Funding Source for Abandoned Mine Cleanup
- New IG report underscores urgency of abandoned mine problem on public lands -
Jul 25 2008
Washington, DC – In the wake of an alarming new report from the Interior Department’s Inspector General on the dangers of abandoned mines on public lands, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today renewed calls for swift action in Congress to create a permanent source of funding to clean up the roughly 47,000 abandoned mines in California, and the approximately 500,000 abandoned mines nationwide.
The IG report is available online at: http://www.doioig.gov/upload/2008-G-00241.pdf
In March, Senator Feinstein introduced a measure to establish an abandoned mine cleanup fund. The fund would be used for the clean up of sites that were mined for minerals like gold, silver, copper, lead and precious gems. The measure is intended to be one part of the broader comprehensive mining reform effort, which Senator Feinstein also supports.
“A new report from the Interior Department’s Inspector General underscores the scope and the urgency of the abandoned mine problem on public lands,” Senator Feinstein said. “The IG’s audit of abandoned mine practices at the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service concluded that public healthy and safety has been compromised by mismanagement, funding shortfalls and systematic neglect.
The report found:
- The potential for more deaths and injuries is ominous. A number of abandoned mine sites on public lands present an immediate danger due to open shafts, collapsing mine wall, and rotting structures. Some have deadly gases that accumulate in underground passages. And others leach hazardous chemicals like arsenic, lead and mercury into groundwater.
- The Bureau of Land Management’s abandoned mines program has been undermined and understaffed. In some cases, staff were told by their supervisors to ignore these problems; and those who did come forward to identify contaminated sites were criticized or outright threatened.
- The scope of the problem is less severe at the National Parks Service. But perennial funding shortfalls impede the clean up of known abandoned mines.
I am asking the Secretary of the Interior Department to come and brief me on a plan of action to address the serious public health and safety issues raised in this alarming report.
As Chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I will seek funds to expedite the inventory and cleanup of these hazardous abandoned mines.
And I will continue to look for ways to move forward the legislation that I’ve offered to fund abandoned mine up clean up.
Bottom line: this report is a clarion call to action. We need to move to swiftly clean up these abandoned mines.”
Feinstein Legislation to Fund Clean up of Abandoned Mines
The bill introduced by Senator Feinstein in March would direct several sources of revenue for the cleanup fund, including reclamation fees for all new and existing hardrock mines – modeled after a similar program for the cleanup of abandoned coal mines.
The bill would also impose royalty payments for new and existing hardrock mines on federal lands, as well as increase transaction and maintenance fees for hardrock mining operations.
Specifically, the bill introduced by Senator Feinstein would reform the 1872 Mining Law in the following ways:
- Creates an Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fund. The fund will be used to clean up and restore land and water resources adversely affected by past hardrock mining activities, including habitat cleanup and restoration.
- Establishes spending priorities for the cleanup fund, based on the severity of the risk to public health, public safety, and the impact on natural resources. These priorities are similar to those included in the House-approved mining legislation.
- Directs the Secretary of Interior to create an inventory of abandoned mines on all Federal, State, tribal, local and private land. Once the inventory is complete, the Secretary is instructed to provide cleanup funding according to the spending priorities listed above.
Unlike the House-approved mining bill, the funding for abandoned mines in the Feinstein legislation will be based entirely on the priorities laid out in the legislation.
Establishes three sources of revenue for the Abandoned Mine Cleanup Fund:
- Reclamation fee: Creates a 0.3 percent reclamation fee on all hardrock mineral mining, including mining on Federal, State, tribal, local and private lands. This reclamation fee is modeled after Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, which established a fee to finance restoration of land abandoned or inadequately restored by coal mining companies. This fund has raised billions of dollars for coal mine reclamation.
- Royalty payments: Requires mining companies that extract minerals from federal land to pay a royalty – 4 percent royalty on existing operations and an 8 percent royalty on new mining operations. These royalties are consistent with those in the mining bill approved by the House late last year.
- Increased maintenance fees: The bill increases hardrock mining fees that are already in place, such as the maintenance fee and the transfer fee. These increased fees are consistent with the levels included in the mining bill approved by the House late last year.