Bill would expand federal mining royalties to hard minerals

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) is sponsoring a bill to require that mining companies pay royalties to the federal government when they mine hardrock minerals like gold and ore on federal land.

The royalties would put hardrock mining on the playing field as coal, oil and gas developers using federal land. The bill would charge an 8 percent royalty on new mines and 4 percent on existing ones.

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“For over 140 years, the federal government has allowed mining companies to extract hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of valuable publicly owned minerals from our public lands without paying American taxpayers a single dime,” DeFazio said in a Thursday statement.

The royalties would pay to clean up abandoned hardrock mining sites around the country, a project DeFazio estimated would cost as much as $72 billion.

“My legislation will ensure the mining industry pays its fair share, meets modern environmental standards, and addresses its legacy of contamination throughout the West,” he said in the statement.

A report from the Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee estimated that the owners of the top 46 hardrock mines on federal land would have paid $380 million in 2012 and 2013 under DeFazio’s legislation. DeFazio is the ranking member of the panel.

The legislation would also establish a system for federal land managers to deny hardrock mining permits that would degrade public land or resources, as well as a way for local, state and tribal governments to petition for permit denials.