Time for hard-rock mining companies to pay up. New mining reform bill introduced

Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall wants hard rock mines to pay royalties-

Despite Obama’s seeming lack of interest in mining reform (probably due to prompting from Harry Reid), the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee is not detered.

Story in the Salt Lake Tribune. Report: Time for hard-rock mining companies to pay up. Bill’s sponsor says no free ride during economic crisis. By Thomas Burr.

Gold mines are doing well in the bad economy, and that is bad news for both the economy and the environment because they are terrible polluters. Moreover, the production of gold has no clear net economic benefit because it is mostly used as an alternative way of storing wealth (and a completely unproductive one at that).






  1. kt Avatar

    Thank you for posting this, Ralph.

    I think it is a good time to refresh our collective memories about the outrageous heist of public “resources” the foreign-owned gold mines get away with. This is especially the case in Harry Reid’s Nevada. If Nevada were a country, it would be the third largest gold-producing country on earth. And Reid has run interference for the mines -time and time again.

    Here is some background from Greg Palast – I believe originally in the Utne Reader and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.


    “Barrick, of course, had to put up cash for the initial property rights and the cost of digging out the booty (and the cost of donations, in smaller amounts, to support Nevada’s Democratic senator, Harry Reid). Still, the shift in rules paid off big time: According to experts at the Mineral Policy Center of Washington, DC, Barrick saved—and the U.S. taxpayer lost—a cool billion or so.

    Upon taking office, Bill Clinton’s new interior secretary, Bruce Babbitt, called Barrick’s claim the “biggest gold heist since the days of Butch Cassidy.” Nevertheless, because the company followed the fast-track process laid out for them under Bush, this corporate Goldfinger had Babbitt by the legal nuggets. Clinton had no choice but to give them the gold mine while the public got the shaft.”

    It is also important to understand that besides looting vast amounts of wealth for a song from public lands that are ravaged forever – the foreign-owned mines in Nevada nearly all have bought out private lands ranchers in the area and hold huge public lands grazing permits where welfare cattle and sheep operations pay $1.35 a month to graze public lands. This costs the taxpayers – just in admin costs – 6 or more times that amount per cow per month just to administer the permit. So right now, mining companies and associated water speculators hold permits on millions of acres of sage-grouse habitat in north-central Nevada – including right up to the Idaho border in the headwaters of the South Fork. What happens is the mines usually let a big, prominent rancher mogul in the area run cows on public lands on these permits – and one promotes ranching with touchy-feely “we can do it really good” ranching – which again costs taxpayers a fortune just to administer permits.

    The mines buy out ranches because their zone of devastation is so immense. As the mine pits are dug down, surface waters above the pit – like wild land springs – dry up. So long after the last fleck of gold is processed here – water tables will be permanently depleted. Who knows how much of a regional impact this is already having?

    We have heard that the appointment of rancher Ken Salazar – who the mining companies and livestock industry greeted with accolades was linked to Obama’s unwillingness to make really significant reforms. Tied in with Harry Reid, financial speculation – like hedge funds and the uranium boom, Obama’s trip to Elko late in the campaign, and other things surrounding all of this. Of course, who knows how much speculation surrounds gold now too.

    Time to radically revise mining laws (and grazing where these foreign mines control cattle grazing across millions acres of PUBLIC LANDS in the Great Basin region). Make these robbers pay the public whose lands they are destroying forever.

    AND make it so agencies can say NO to big mining. There was bad news recently on Mount Tenabo – a Judge in Nevada refused to halt a mine on a site held sacred by some Native Americans.


    So public lands held sacred by Native Americans allowed to be destroyed forever by a foreign mine in Harry Reid’s Nevada. Plus water tables permanently lowered, and sage grouse habitat destroyed. And bullion from the mine will reap vast profits for …. Who knows who all the investors really are?

    George W. Bush’s wars have been very good for the gold mines – and have (indirectly) had terrible consequences for the public lands, as mining has boomed with fear, uncertainty and financial ruin the Repubs have strewn.

  2. Alan Gregory Avatar

    It is a century past the due date for the West’s hard-rock mining outfits to fork over what they owe us — the owners of the public land they keep on trashing.

  3. kt Avatar

    Alan – You are in Pennsylvania, aren’t you? Are the old coal seams still sending up smoke into the air there?

  4. April Clauson Avatar
    April Clauson

    Sounds like Salazar may be a good thing for us!

  5. JimT Avatar

    What the hardrock mining companies REALLY oppose is giving the Secretary discretion to refuse APDs under the mining law. And it is what the law needs the most to be really effective in eliminating and mitigating the awful legacy of hard rock mining.

    I suspect Salazar will stay out of this one for the most part, and let Reid sink it once more.

  6. Salle Avatar


    Makes sense. Salazar must know that the is in a very hot seat by now, maybe more so than he thought. I watched the news clips about this and I noticed he wasn’t wearin’ his hat…

  7. Rob Avatar

    So what about us little recreational prospectors who take their kids out on the weekends to pan 6 cubic inches of dirt, are they going to stop that too?


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan