New Mexico mining claims jump 50 percent since 2003
State, county officials urge Bingaman, Domenici to pass reform legislation
Albuquerque, N.M. –In the face of a dramatic new increase in claims here, state, county and tribal officials called on Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici to lead a Senate committee to reform the 135-year-old law that governs the mining of gold, uranium and other hardrock minerals on federal lands in New Mexico and other western states.
A comprehensive bipartisan package that would modernize the Civil War era statute was passed by the House of Representatives in November. The Senate will host its first mining reform hearing this month.
“This year, New Mexico will take center stage in the effort to reform the 1872 Mining Law,” said Nathan Newcomer of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Senators Bingaman and Domenici can play a lead role in protecting the health of New Mexico’s communities, lands, water and wildlife by producing a modern framework for mining that protects taxpayers and the environment. We all have a stake in their success. ”
The 1872 mining law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, offers special status to those filing claims on public lands – without safeguarding watersheds, wildlife or communities from the messy business of mining. It also allows mining companies to take minerals from public lands without compensating taxpayers, while oil, gas and coal industries have been paying royalties for decades.
New Mexico has had a significant share of mining-related disasters. In 1979, 94 million gallons of radioactive, acidic mine tailings spilled into the Rio Puerco. The release from the site, promoted as a modern and safe treatment facility, is the largest release of liquid radioactive waste in U.S. history. Thirty years later, the impacts of that spill still linger.
The need for reform has also been made more urgent by the dramatic increase in new mining claims in western states, including New Mexico. According to Bureau of Land Management data analyzed by the Environmental Working Group, the total number of hardrock mining claims in New Mexico is 50 percent higher in mid-2007 than in 2003. Claims totaled 11,348 in July of 2007.
“Counties have a stake in mining reform,” said Denna Archuleta, Bernalillo County Commissioner. “We’re dealing with an antiquated law where the taxpayers are left with the clean-up, and it’s a financial burden on everybody for a few to make a profit. We ask Senators Bingaman and Domenici to take this opportunity to take the lead at reform at the federal level.”
“Sportsman have a stake in mining reform,” said Kent Salazar, president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Our public lands are the source of our best fishing, elk hunting and wildlife habitat, and we pay user fees to hunt and fish. It’s time the industry also paid its own way, and took on the cost of mine cleanup.”
Today’s event included participation from the New Mexico Division of Mining and Minerals, Haaku Tribal Water Office/Acoma Pueblo, Dine Against Uranium Mining, Conservation Voters New Mexico, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and Environment New Mexico.
On January 24, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear testimony about the need for mining law reform and is expected to produce a bill by late February. The hearing follows passage late last year of H.R. 2262, which provided fundamental reform measures.