Dems wants royalties for metal mines on federal land

A group of House Democrats introduced a bill Friday that would charge royalties for private companies mining metals on federal land.

The bill would remedy what the Democrats said is an unfair situation in which companies conducting hardrock mining — which includes gold, copper, silver and other metals — pay no royalties for their leases.

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Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, announced the bill Friday, along with Reps. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioHouse Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment Trump bashes Mueller for 'ineptitude,' slams 'sick' Democrats backing impeachment Pelosi denies she's 'trying to run out the clock' on impeachment MORE (D-Ore.) and Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoHouse Democrats push automakers to rebuff Trump, join California's fuel efficiency deal Overnight Energy: Democrats seek help in appealing to conservatives on climate | Whistleblowers say Interior sidelined scientists | Automakers strike fuel efficiency deal with California in rebuff to Trump Interior whistleblowers say agency has sidelined scientists under Trump MORE (D-N.Y.).

“We hear the mantra from the other side of the aisle: ‘run the government like a business, run the government like a business,’ ” DeFazio said.

“What business gives away precious assets for nothing?”

The new royalty fee would be 8 percent for new leases and 4 percent for existing ones. It would also establish reclamation and bonding standards to protect against companies abandoning mines and give local governments an avenue for petitioning for mine applications to be rejected.

In addition to getting taxpayers a more fair return on federal assets, the bill would use some of the new funds to clean up environmental damage from abandoned hardrock mines around the country.

Tonko also released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report he commissioned that concluded that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), whose Forest Service hosts many hardrock mines, is missing some key procedures for cleaning up old mines.

Specifically, USDA did not have a centralized inventory for abandoned mines, GAO said.

“Without a reliable inventory or plans and procedures for developing one, USDA cannot effectively manage its cleanup programs,” investigators said.

Tonko said the Democratic bill would help remedy the problem.

“These gentlemen are doing the right thing,” Tonko said. “They’re creating a dedicated fund that will allow for the assessment and the cleanup activities that are required.”