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WA Mining Claims, Cleanups Await Answers from Congress

February 8, 2008

Olympia, WA – A U.S. Senate Committee has been "digging" for ways to update the nation's hard-rock mining law. And with more than 2,200 mining claims in Washington, conservation groups say an update is past due. Those advocating changes argue the current law, which has been in place since 1872, doesn't protect the environment. That's a fact, they say, that Eastern Washington has learned the hard way.

Mike Petersen of The Lands Council says Spokane is downstream from one of three Superfund cleanup sites in the state.

"This was a result of silver mining that started right around the turn of the twentieth century. It continues today, on some level, and contained in the mine tailings are lead, arsenic, cadmium, and some other nasty metals."

In Washington, there are also 3,800 abandoned mine sites which, when added to current operations, take up an area of public land almost as big as Seattle.

Critics argue a new national law is unnecessary because individual states have adopted their own mining laws. The U.S. House has already passed its version of the mining reform bill.

Proponents of modernizing the law want miners to pay royalties for what they take from public land, partly to fund clean-up of abandoned mine sites, but also because, they say, it's only fair.

Petersen believes that, compared to other industries, mining companies have had a "sweetheart deal" for more than a century.

"For example, if ranchers have their cows out on public lands, they have to pay for the grass. Loggers have to pay for the trees. Ski area owners have to give a certain part of every lift ticket back to the federal government. The mining industry never had to do that."

Statements made at Thursday's news conference in Olympia by Sen. Maria Cantwell and others are available online at

For more information about mining in Washington, visit and

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA