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Mining Reform Plan Digs for Changes in NM

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November 5, 2007

Albuquerque, NM – Gold and uranium may no longer be "free for the taking" on public lands in New Mexico and elsewhere in the West. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill reforming a 135-year old mining law, which includes a new funding source to clean up abandoned mine sites. Jeremy Vesbach with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation says the bill is good news for sportsmen in the Land of Enchantment.

"We have a lot of historic pollution. The Red River used to be a blue-ribbon trout fishery before being polluted by mining. This legislation will fund the cleanup and restoration of some our best fish and wildlife habitat."

The new law calls for the collection of royalties on gold, silver, copper and uranium taken from public lands, similar to the royalties collected from oil, gas and coal exploitation. Some mining companies have warned the law could lead to job cuts, but Vesbach believes updating the federal law is especially important here in New Mexico, where another boom in uranium mining is just beginning.

"We've been called the 'Saudi Arabia of uranium mining' by 'USA Today.' It makes sense to get ahead of this boom and ensure that we can, for instance, deny specific claims to protect our water supplies. Under current regulations, if a mine is staked on public land, we can't deny claims."

The "Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act," passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, now moves on to the Senate.

Eric Mack/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NM