Coal Royalties

FILE - In this Nov. 15, 2016, file photo, a mechanized shovel loads coal from an 80-feet thick seam into a haul truck at Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek mine near Decker, Mont. 

(The Center Square) - U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, introduced a bill that would modify the country's Mining Law of 1872.

Heinrich and U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva, D-Arizona, introduced House and Senate versions of the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act this week. 

The bill would strengthen environmental standards surrounding mining and give the American people a greater share of the profit, according to a press release from Heinrich's office.

"We cannot go all in on a clean energy future with a 19th-century mining policy on the books," Heinrich said in the release. "This antiquated law has become a driving force behind centuries of legacy mining pollution that is leaking toxic heavy metals and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers all across the West. Unlike the way we manage other publicly-owned natural resources like coal and oil, we don't collect any royalties on hardrock minerals to return fair value to taxpayers. We also don't have a reclamation fee to help with cleanup work, and we lack a clear process to protect the public lands that aren’t appropriate for mineral development. It’s overdue we change that."

Each year, more than $300 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, and minerals are mined from U.S. public lands without providing royalties to Americans, according to Heinrich's office. Heinrich's bill would require a royalty rate between five percent to eight percent, depending on the company's profit. It would also require mining companies to pay rent for using public land. 

Additionally, it would update mining environmental standards on public land, putting them more in line with the existing standards for oil, gas, and coal development. One of those provisions would give the federal government greater authority to urge mining companies to withdraw from certain areas where it deems mining inappropriate.

“Fair royalties, the ability to protect sacred sites and sources of drinking water, and funding for abandoned mine cleanups are essential components of a modern mining law. We appreciate the efforts to bring a living anachronism into the modern era,” Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, said in the release. “As Congress debates options for permitting reform, we look forward to working with all stakeholders to help advance mining legislation that ensures certainty needed by industry while providing the tools and resources needed to clean up abandoned mines – one of the nation’s biggest threats to clean water.” 

The Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act can be read here