Earthjustice Urges Mining Reform on 150th Anniversary of 1872 Mining Law

The 150-year-old law has remained virtually unchanged since its passage and still governs mining operations on public lands to this day.


Geoffrey Nolan, Earthjustice, (202) 740-7030

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the General Mining Act of 1872. Originally passed to incentivize the settlement of the Western territories, the mining law has remained virtually unchanged since its passage and still governs mining operations on public lands to this day.

“Dirty mining operations regulated by a 150-year-old law have desecrated Indigenous sacred sites, destroyed iconic natural wilderness, and poisoned the air, water, and land of surrounding communities,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “Much has changed since 1872, and we must update our mining laws and regulations to address the modern challenges we face. We applaud the efforts by Chair Grijalva and Senator Heinrich to update our mining laws to the twenty-first century and ensure that people, special places, and sacred sites are protected from destructive mining practices.”

Last month, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act to update the 1872 Mining Law. The bill would mandate strong environmental protections, a fair return to taxpayers by requiring a new royalty on hardrock mining operations, and the creation of an abandoned mine cleanup fund to address long-standing hazards to wildlife habitats and human health. Additionally, the bill would protect tribal sacred sites and water and land resources that have been disproportionately impacted by mining operations.

“We must meet our demand for critical minerals in the most sustainable way possible, and that starts by incentivizing the creation and expansion of a robust circular economy that fulfills demand through the reuse and recycling of critical minerals,” continued Miller-McFeeley. “While some mining must occur to end our reliance on fossil fuels, we cannot sacrifice important environmental protections and community input in the process. The clean energy transition will be powered by critical minerals, and our laws and regulations must ensure that transition is not built on a foundation of dirty mining.”

Upon the introduction of the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act, Earthjustice joined a coalition of 76 conservation groups, environmental advocates, and mining reform organizations in a letter to Members of Congress urging them to support its swift passage.

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