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Bingaman to Tackle Mining Update in the Senate

February 25, 2008

Albuquerque, NM – Today's hardrock mining law, which includes uranium mining, is 135 years old. Many consider an update long overdue, and the effort to reform the law has moved to the U.S. Senate. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, led by New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman, is soon expected to release its version of the bill.

Jane Danowitz, with the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, says New Mexico is one of the states hardest hit by pollution from abandoned mine sites. The legislation would charge royalties to companies taking resources from public lands, using some of the money to help pay for cleanup.

"It's important to remember that these international corporations are still allowed to take precious resources from U.S. public land without compensating taxpayers."

The royalties would be similar to what coal, gas, and oil companies pay; opponents argue the proposed royalty amounts are too high.

Jeremy Vesbach, with the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, believes updating the federal law is especially important here in New Mexico, where another uranium mining boom is just getting underway.

"We've been called 'the Saudi Arabia of uranium mining' by USA Today, and it makes sense to get ahead of this boom and make sure that we can deny a claim to, for instance, protect our water supplies. Under current law, if a mine is staked on public lands, you can't say no."

Danowitz says the original mining law of 1872 may have been prudent legislation in the late 1800s, but times certainly have changed.

"When the law was passed, it applied mainly to lone prospectors with pack mules. Today, it's a modern mining industry recording record profits."

The U.S. House has already passed its version of the "Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act," HR 2262.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM