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Tomorrow are the South Carolina primaries, and former VP Joe Biden leads in the poll, followed by winner of the first three contests, Sen. Bernie Sanders and businessman Tom Steyer. Some Republican South Carolinians may vote for Sanders because they want closed primaries.

Mining Reform Plan: Jobs for MT?

February 2, 2009

Washington, D.C. - Hardrock mining operators may find it's time to pay up after well over a century of royalty-free mining. A bill now in Congress to reform the 1872 hardrock mining law would create royalties for mining on public lands like those that oil and gas and coal companies pay. At the same time, a proposed reclamation fee to be paid by industry would go towards putting Montana people to work cleaning up abandoned mine sites, mostly long-defunct gold mines.

Velma Smith, manager of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, says the reform is long overdue.

"Now that the country is going to have to make hard decisions about where we put our money, and trying to get people back to work, it's just way past time to do this."

News of the bill follows a new report from Smith's group that finds mining subsidies, and failure to charge royalties for taking minerals from public lands, could cost taxpayers more than 1.5 billion dollars in the next decade.

"We hope that by putting these numbers out there, we wake people up to say 'Hey, wait a minute, there's some important questions of equity here, and what the taxpayers should be paying.'"

Mining companies say the royalties and other proposed fees are too high, and could lead to smaller operations and lay-offs. Smith suspects the companies can cut back in other areas, and that revenue generated would lead to cleaner water, more jobs, and increased quality of life.

The "Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009" is HR 269. The Pew report,"The Price of Inaction: $1.6 Billion," is at www.pewminingreform.org

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT