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VIDEO: Udall Highlights Key Amendments to Senate Energy Bill on Climate Action, Mining Reform

March 03, 2020

Udall is pushing for amendments to make mining companies pay their fair share for profiting off public land, cut methane emissions, and boost clean energy incentives


WASHINGTON—Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies and author of The Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2019, addressed the Senate floor urging his fellow senators to strengthen the American Energy Innovation Act with amendments to reform the 1872 Mining Law and add meaningful climate action to the bill. In his speech, Udall highlighted the need for amendments that would grow the clean energy economy, reduce dangerous methane leaks and require mining companies to pay their fair share for profiting off of public land. He also spoke in favor of his bipartisan amendment with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to reform oil and gas royalties for the first time in 100 years to eliminate an unnecessary fossil fuel subsidy and provide a better return for taxpayers.

“The full Senate deserves a chance to be heard on the important issues at stake with this bill. Most importantly, we must take real action on climate change and address a problematic provision in this bill to limit environmental reviews of massive, potentially toxic mining projects,” Udall said.

One Udall amendment updates the badly-outdated 1872 mining law to require the mining industry to finally pay royalties, treating them similarly to the oil, gas and coal industries when they extract valuable minerals from U.S. public lands. The hardrock mining amendment is highly relevant to the pending Senate energy bill, which includes a controversial “critical minerals” provision to fast-track the federal environmental review process for new mines on public lands. Udall’s methane amendment would also restore 2016 pollution control rules that limited venting, flaring and leaks of this powerful greenhouse gas from oil and gas operations on public lands, following the Trump administration’s action to eliminate them.

In May, Udall and House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) introduced similar mining legislation in the House and Senate. The bill helps ensure that taxpayers aren’t on the hook for cleaning up abandoned mines, and seeks to prevent another toxic spill like the Gold King Mine disaster of 2015. The Gold King Mine blowout spilled 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas and San Juan rivers, and communities in New Mexico are still waiting for compensation for the damage to their businesses and farms.

Highlights from Udall’s speech include:

On the costly risks of bill’s Critical Minerals provision:

“[Including] the American Mineral Security Act—a bill that saw significant opposition in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in this package is problematic because it would ‘streamline’ the federal permitting process for hardrock mining,” Udall said. “‘Streamlining’ the approval process means arbitrary deadlines and reducing public input on massive mining projects that could wreak further environmental destruction on public lands.

“There are two controversial mine proposals in New Mexico right now – the Terrero Mine in the Pecos and the Copper Flat Mine near Hillsboro,” Udall continued. “Both of these mines have significant concerns from local farmers, ranchers, Tribes and residents who are worried about water pollution. Under this provision, almost anything can be labelled a ‘critical mineral.’ And mining permits can be pushed through while limiting local community input. I am strongly supporting an amendment from Senator Stabenow to strike this provision.”

On the wider urgency to update mining laws:

“We cannot forget that the mining industry has gotten one of the biggest free rides on the back of the taxpayer in American history – all while leaving the taxpayer holding the bag for their toxic legacy,” Udall said. “Hardrock mining on federal lands is governed by the General Mining Act of 1872. That’s right. Eighteen seventy-two. 

“The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that – in 2010 alone – hardrock mining earned $6.4 billion dollars from public lands. That would have yielded $800 million dollars per year for the American taxpayer if mining were treated the same as coal, oil, and gas,” Udall continued. “And the shocking fact is – foreign-owned companies are the beneficiaries. 

“One study found that 20,000 gallons per day of toxic water from 43 abandoned mine sites are polluting streams, ponds, and groundwater,” Udall said. “Witness the Gold King Mine – that gushed three million gallons of this toxic yellow stew into the Animas and San Juan Rivers and across Colorado, my home state of New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. It’s been four years since the spill. And states, tribes, and local communities still have not been fully reimbursed. 

“The old joke is that the mining company get the gold. And the American public gets the shaft. Literally,” Udall observed. “My amendment to reform the 1872 Mining Law ends this freeride by doing two simple things. It sets a royalty rate between five and eight percent on mining on federal lands, and provides for cleanup of abandoned mines, paid for by royalties and an abandoned mine reclamation fee of one to three percent. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved broad mining reform legislation last year. And it could be coming to the full House soon. Mining reform is decades and decades overdue.”

On the opportunity to for climate protection provisions:

“Everywhere we look – we’re experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change – whether it’s hurricanes along the southeastern coasts, flooding in the Midwest, drought in the Southwest, or out of control wild fires in California,” Udall said. “I think just a few things would dramatically improve this bill’s climate impact.

“First, we need to add clean energy tax incentives. Clean energy tax incentives are one of the most effective tools we have in our toolbox to increase renewable power sources like wind and solar. And the energy storage technology that enables them to work as baseload power,” Udall continued. “Second, we should put common-sense limits on one of the worst greenhouse gases—methane.

“Methane is 84 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas,” Udall observed. “Industry says they want to control methane pollution. They were prepared to live with limits on public lands in a 2016 rule from the Bureau of Land Management. In 2017, the Senate rejected an attempt to repeal that rule on a bipartisan vote. But the Trump Administration eliminated that rule due to lobbying by the worst polluters in the industry. We should restore that rule and I have filed an amendment to do so immediately.”

On the Udall-Grassley amendment to modernize oil and gas royalties to eliminate a fossil fuel subsidy:

“We’ve filed an amendment together based on our bill to update those royalties and other leasing items for the first time in 100 years. It’s a long overdue topic, and I hope to see increasing bipartisan support in the near future,” Udall said. “We have a historic oil boom in this country, much of which is using public lands. And the public has a right to see a fair value for those resources. We also have a large and growing budget deficit and a major climate change problem. Bringing oil and gas royalties into the 21st century would be a bipartisan win on all of those fronts.”

Udall’s full remarks as prepared for delivery can be found HERE. 

The 1872 Mining Law reform amendment would include provisions from Udall’s Hardrock Mining Reform Act that:

  • Set a royalty rate between 5 and 8 percent on mining on federal lands
  • Provide for cleanup of abandoned mines, paid for by royalties and an abandoned mine reclamation fee of 1 to 3 percent

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All Information was gathered from publicly available US Government releases. "§105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise. ( Pub. L. 94–553, title I, §101, Oct. 19, 1976, 90 Stat. 2546 .)"