Please attend one or more of the two remaining listening sessions.

Recently a federal register notice announced three public listening sessions for the Interagency Working Group on mining reform beginning next week and has extended the comment period to August 30,2022.  Please consider registering to speak or listen by clicking the links below.  It’s also appreciated if you can encourage all partners to join these sessions and share the need for modernizing mining laws, regulations, and policies.   

The first listening session was held July 19, but two more are scheduled for you to take part.  Click the links to take you to a website where you can register for the listening session and sign up to speak.

Hardrock mining on public lands — which includes gold, silver, copper, uranium, lithium and nearly all critical minerals — is still governed by the General Mining Law of 1872.  Current federal laws and regulations do not provide a comprehensive system to evaluate, permit, develop and reclaim mines.  

As a result, and as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to ramp up domestic production on hard rock minerals, an Interagency Working Group was created to recommend changes to improve and modernize federal laws and regulations for hard rock mining on public lands.

These listening sessions give you a chance to tell the working groups what needs to be done to protect our communities and the environment from the ravages of mining on public lands.

Talking Points for oral or written comments

  • Biggest point to emphasize: public land agencies have discretion to protect other resources (like water, wildlife, etc.) and may approve or deny proposed mining operations.  This should be clarified in public land management agency regulations for hardrock mining, including that there are safeguards adopted in the regulations that make it clear that agencies are to protect important environmental, scientific, historical, cultural or other public resources from harm. 

  • Mining plan of operations should not be allowed to become stale and outdated.  Currently, mines can remain permitted under ancient approvals, escaping agency and public scrutiny even when new information about adverse impacts comes to light.  This can also be inappropriately used by operators to avoid reclamation obligations by keeping a minimal presence on the site but yet producing no minerals.  Measures need to be put in place to prevent this, including that non-operational period of a mine is limited to 5 years.      

  • Mining operations should be required to prevent impacts to the hydrologic balance that may impair beneficial uses of surface and ground water.  This is particularly important in the world of climate change in the west.

  • Agencies must not be able to permit mines that would cause long term or perpetual water pollution.

  • Land managers need to ensure they are protecting federal water rights, segregated, and withdrawn lands when considering and approving a mine.  This also includes preventing substantial adverse impacts to a resource or resources in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern.  

  • Land managers need to ensure that operations will not adversely affect treaty rights guaranteed by the United States to Native American Tribes or Nations.

  • Land managers need to guard against adverse effects to Traditional Cultural Properties and cultural or historic resources that are eligible for listing under the National Register of Historic Places and ensure access to and ceremonial use of Indigenous sacred sites and avoid adversely affecting the physical integrity of identified sacred sites.  

Suggested script for oral or written comments

Thank you for committing to update the woefully inadequate and outdated regulations that govern mining activities on public lands. 

This update has become absolutely critical. First and foremost, it’s past time to protect communities and the environment from the many harms of mining.

To best protect communities and the environment from mineral mining, I urge you to enact protective regulations for three federal agencies that oversee mining and minerals development: the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Environmental Protection Agency. These protective rules should address water, wildlife and their habitat, cultural resources, and public health. Specifically, I urge you to consider the following provisions in the new mining rules: 

  1. Make clear that the law allows the BLM and Forest Service to say no to a mine where it would cause substantial harm to important scientific, cultural, historical, environmental or other resources.   
  2. Engage in meaningful, upfront tribal consultation and community engagement with local stakeholders who may be affected by potential mineral extraction. 
  3. Ensure that financial assurances for mines can cover the full costs of reclamation and disallow blanket financial guarantees or bonds that don’t ensure full coverage of reclamation obligations

As the climate crisis rapidly worsens, we must ramp down our reliance on fossil fuels; new regulations will support that transition. Also, as clean energy development increases, we must guarantee that the mining it will require (for example, lithium mining) meets the highest environmental standards with minimal human impacts. 

The EPA specifically must close two Clean Water Act loopholes. The first allows mining companies to build a dam across the mouth of a valley and then dump their waste into the waters behind the dam to be regulated as a “waste treatment system.” This loophole means the river, lake or wetland behind the dam is no longer eligible for Clean Water Act protection. The second loophole treats discharge of hard-rock mine waste, and the earth and rock removed from coal mines, as innocuous “fill.” Mine waste (tailings) and the soil removed from coal mines (overburden) contain hazardous contaminants such as mercury, arsenic and lead and should not be regulated like relatively innocuous organic building materials such as wood chips, soil, clay, sand and other materials usually associated with dredging and construction activities.    

In addition to strengthening the current regulations, I urge you to work with Congress to significantly reform the law that governs federal mining, the 1872 Hardrock Mining Act. This law, which was enacted when miner’s tools were limited to pickaxes and shovels, is incapable of addressing the challenges to the environment and communities posed by today’s mega-mines.   

Finally, I urge you to ensure that federal agencies and Congress develop alternatives to ever-increasing new mining, such as incentivizing and strengthening the circular economy to maximize the reuse and recycling of existing minerals. This will minimize the need for new mining and reduce conflicts that often come with modern, massive industrial mines. 

I’m counting on you to bring mining into the 21st century.

Stay tuned for a sample comment letter you can submit Electronically during the public comment period that runs through August 30.