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A Silver, and Gold, Lining for Idaho?

March 6, 2009

Boise, ID – Gold prices have been rising again, and that’s raising interest in a bill before Congress that would update century-old mining laws. The U.S. House is discussing reforms that would include environmental controls and royalty fees on hardrock mining, including silver and gold in Idaho.

Velma Smith, manager of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, says cleanup of hardrock mines on public lands could cost upwards of $50 billion, and it’s the taxpayer who would bear the burden.

"Our hope is that 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."

Opponents of the bill say the proposed royalties are too high, and would lead to scaled-back mining operations and lost jobs. Smith argues the law was right for the time, but is long overdue for an update.

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

Between 1920 and 2000, the government collected more than $6 billion in royalties from coal mining on public lands, according to Smith, but not one cent for gold or silver. Reforms are outlined in the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - ID