Close this loophole for the public good
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin is no doubt happy with his new position as chairman of the Senate’s Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests & Mining.
Since the subcommittee oversees national mining policy and research as well as the use of public lands and wildlife refuges, Manchin is probably right where he wants to be. Like many West Virginia officials, he’s been critical of federal regulations that he sees as hurting the coal industry.
We hope he doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, however, when it comes to environmental rules. The American public should come first, not coal interests. With his new assignment, one thing that Manchin might look into for the public good is the licensing of hard-rock mining on public lands.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in December that the companies that mine public lands for gold, copper and other minerals pay no royalties to the federal government. Ever since the General Mining Act of 1872, all they need to pay is $189 to register a claim and then $140 annually for renewal. Whatever gold, copper and minerals are extracted belong entirely to the mining concern.
Would you as a private landowner agree to such a giveaway? Probably not, if you understood what was happening. So, why should the government?
The same GAO report showed that the feds collected $11.4 billion last year from the extraction of oil, gas and coal on federal and Indian lands. Yet they don’t even know the value of the hard-rock minerals being mined since the companies aren’t required to report it.
When this was last debated 20 years ago, the U.S. Interior Department estimated the sale of these minerals at $6.41 billion, and metal prices were far lower then.
Way back in 1969, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall said updating the 1872 mining law was “the most important piece of unfinished business on the nation’s resource agenda.”
Since coal and natural gas are already paying royalties, Manchin has nothing to lose by forcing other industries to do the same. And the American people have much to gain in this age of federal budget woes.