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The End of the ‘All You Can Mine Buffet’ in CO and the West?

November 2, 2007

Washington, DC – The laws that govern so-called "hardrock" mining in the West -- for substances such as gold, silver, and uranium -- haven't changed in more than a century. But the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a bill to reform a mining law that's been in place for 135 years. Pete Kolbenschlag, with the National Environmental Trust in Colorado, says it's about time.

"The mining law was passed before Colorado was even a state. We now have over 5 million people living here. It's an entirely different situation. It's time to bring the mining laws into the 21st century."

Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, says the law will put gold, silver, copper and uranium mining on a more level playing field with oil and gas operations.

"It would establish a royalty for mining companies that are taking public resources off of public lands, and would require funds to be put into an abandoned mine cleanup fund. It would also establish environmental standards, which is the first time that hardrock mining has really had those in more than a century."

Danowitz says the Act is aimed at big mining companies, not the amateur prospectors who mine as a hobby. The National Mining Association opposes the bill, saying it would subject the mining industry to the "world's highest tax on minerals." But Kolbenschlag says reforming mining regulations is really about protecting quality of life here.

"There's an economic issue, there's a water quality issue, but there's also what it means to live in Colorado and why we cherish it."

The U.S. Senate is debating its own update of the mining law.

Eric Mack/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - CO