On April 25th, Senators Catherine Cortez-Masto (D-Nev.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) introduced the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act – a bill that represents an unprecedented rollback of protections for federal public lands and prioritizes the interests of mining companies above all other land uses, including recreation, conservation, clean energy development, and the sacred sites of indigenous peoples. Alaska has more federal public land by acreage than any other state. The implications of this legislation could be devastating for our intact ecosystems, healthy watersheds, and the communities who rely on them.
The bill would make it easier for mining companies to stake claims on public lands by allowing mining claimants – including international mining conglomerates – to permanently occupy federal public lands for a nominal fee. Proponents of the legislation assert that the bill represents a return to the status-quo, by undoing the precedent set by the recent Rosemont decision – a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that blocked the Rosemont copper mine near Tucson, Arizona. In reality, the bill makes industrial-scale mining easier and reduces the opportunity for local stakeholders to determine their own futures.
If enacted, the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act would allow companies to use existing mining claims to dump mine waste onto neighboring federal lands, expedite the permitting process for mining activities, and reduce opportunities for concerned stakeholders to intervene via lawsuit by ‘streamlining’ the permitting process.
This legislation is being touted as crucial for our clean energy future. Contrary to the corporate narrative – and goldrush greed – we can meet our need for critical transition minerals through both carefully sited and intensively managed mines, operating under the strictest environmental standards, and robust investment in a circular minerals economy that emphasizes recycling and reusing the critical minerals that have already been extracted from the Earth.
The mining law of 1872 is already remarkably permissive—mining activities have polluted the headwaters of 40% of western watersheds, remediation attempts are not grounded in ecological reality, and the polluting corporations pay no royalties for the minerals they extract from public lands.
True regulatory reform is needed to protect our watersheds, ecology, and communities from the impacts of the mining industry. Despite its misleading name, the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act does the exact opposite.