Dear Harry Reid, Please Stop Protecting a Destructive 130-Year-Old Mining Law


Photo via Public Radio
Dear Sen. Harry Reid,
As the Senate Majority Leader you've generally been a pretty green leader--you've got a high ranking from the League of Conservation Voters, you've done some good stuff in working on the smart grid, and I generally support your backing of myriad environmental causes. But there's this one glaring exception. You know what I'm talking about, Harry. That bizarre, 137-year-old gold rush law you keep supporting. The one that lets hard rock mining companies mine for up to a billion dollars worth of metal--polluting heavily in the process--without paying any taxes at all to the federal government. Taxes which could go towards cleaning up the massive messes they make. What gives, Harry? The law in question, Mr. Reid, the General Mining Act of 1872, is literally a law designed during the gold rush. It was initially structured to encourage miners and prospectors to head out West an' git shovlin' (use best old prospector voice when reading for best effect). Now, it appears to serve no purpose other than to secure votes from the many miners in your state.

According to High Country News:

That law, a relic of the gold-rush era, lets hardrock miners extract a billion dollars' worth of gold, copper and other minerals from federal land each year without paying any royalties to the federal government. It also encourages environmentally risky mining proposals, despite the history of mines polluting streams with toxic heavy metals.
Every year, environmentalists gather to reform the destructive law, and every year, you shut them down. It's gotten to the point where most of your fellow committee members don't even bother attempting to tamper with it anymore.

Of course, the reason you continue to block efforts to reform the antiquated law seems pretty simple to me: mining is huge in Nevada. Mining companies donate generously to your reelection campaigns, and miners make up a sizable chunk of the voting block you depend on. I get it. Politics is tough. Nevada mines some 80% of the US' gold, after all. And with those ugly approval numbers lurching ever lower in your home state (34% view him favorably, 46% unfavorably), now probably doesn't seem like the time to shoot for reform.

But it is, Mr. Reid. It's long overdue. Those two legitimate reform efforts currently underway--one good, tough one from Rep. Nick Rahall from West Virginia, and one wimpier but better-than-nothing effort from Sen. Jeff Bingham from New Mexico--will both eventually have to go through you. So when they get to your desk, Harry, mull them over--they're not asking you to abolish mining or anything. One's a meager 2% royalty tax on mining companies that could go towards helping to clean up the pollution the operations create. Surely you wouldn't lose your vaunted mining company backing and prospector vote over that? Just a thought, Harry.

Yours Truly,

Brian

PS - Keep up the solid work on the other fronts, and let's get that climate bill out of committee this year, huh?

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Tags: Congress | Conservation | Nevada

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