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Illinois Taxpayers Ready for Return on Mining Royalties

March 2, 2009

Washington, DC - With gold prices at a seven-month high, some say there's no better time than now to ensure that Illinois taxpayers get a return from hard rock mining on public lands. The U.S. House is considering reform of the 1872 Mining Law to provide modern environmental and taxpayer protections similar to those already in place for coal mining in Illinois and across the country, including royalty fees.

Proponents say reform of the venerable law would ensure a level playing field for all in the mining industry. The manager of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, Velma Smith, says the legislation is long overdue.

"Obviously, in 1872 nobody was thinking much about the environment and protecting environmental resources, and the reform bill would improve and modernize the regulations governing hard rock mines."

Smith says that from 1920 to 2000, the federal government collected more than six billion dollars in royalties from coal mining on public land, but not one cent for gold, silver, copper and other metallic minerals. Opponents of the reform say it would be an economic burden on mining communities already struggling to get by.

Smith says cleanup of hard rock mines on public lands could cost upwards of 50 billion dollars, and often it's the taxpayers who bear that burden.

"You find old mines in Illinois and if we could ask this industry to pay a small fee to help clean up, I think that would help a lot of communities."

Smith says an added bonus would be the jobs created by the cleanup of old mines.

She says it's encouraging that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has long been a supporter of hard rock mine reform.

"Our hope is that we get the Senate to act as well, and then we come up with a program that can help Western states, protect taxpayers, protect public lands, and clean up old mines at the same time."

The Senate is expected to introduce its own version of the hard rock mining law reform bill in coming months.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL