Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Why Do American Taxpayers Give Away Minerals to Mining Companies?

Energy
Why Do American Taxpayers Give Away Minerals to Mining Companies?

Think Progress

by Jessica Goad

This photo shows the Newmont Gold Quarry pit in Battle Mountain, Nev. While the U.S. government reaps billions of dollars in royalties each year from fossil fuels extracted from federal public lands and waters, it does not collect any royalties from gold, uranium or other metals mined from the same lands, Congressional auditors reported on Dec. 12. A Government Accountability Office report found that the federal government doesn’t even know how much these so-called “hard rock” mines produce from federal public lands in 12 Western states where most of the mining occurs. (AP Photo/The Reno Gazette-Journal, David B. Parker, file)

As Washington struggles to address the country’s growing deficit, a new report released today finds that the federal government has lost its grip on finances in a different way.

An analysis from the Government Accountability Office reveals that the government does not keep track of the amount and value of hardrock minerals—gold, silver, copper, etc.—mined on public lands that are being given away to private companies.

Because the government does not collect royalties on these minerals, it claims there is no reason to keep track of this information:

We found that federal agencies generally do not collect data from hardrock mine operators on the amount and value of hardrock minerals extracted from federal lands because there is no federal royalty that would necessitate doing so.

The reason that companies mining hardrock minerals on public lands are exempt from paying royalties is a law passed almost 150 years ago, called the General Mining Act of 1872. To this day, it is the law of the land when it comes to extracting hardrock minerals from the federal estate. This means that mining companies are able to extract taxpayer-owned copper, gold, silver and other minerals for nearly nothing in exchange.

Other resources extracted from public lands, like oil, coal and natural gas, are subject to royalties of some sort, generally in the realm of 8-12.5 percent. And while the federal government receives payments for drilling and mining in other ways like bonus bids and rents, royalties provide a significant amount of money to taxpayers: GAO found that the total royalties received on coal, oil and natural gas totaled $11.4 billion in 2011.

Although data on how many hardrock minerals are being extracted from public lands isn’t tracked, there have been some attempts at estimating what this loss to taxpayers looks like. Using data from 1993, the Department of the Interior approximated that more than $6 billion worth of hardrock minerals was extracted from federal lands in fiscal year 2011.

Today’s report underscores the need for greater disclosure of what is extracted from public lands, while also reforming the 1872 mining law and requiring companies to pay a royalty on the minerals that they extract. Democratic members of the House Committee on Natural Resources pointed out that reforming the law could raise $300 million every year.

Reforming outdated policies like the 1872 mining law and subsidies for oil companies in order to help address the deficit are also important in the context of other extreme policies that have been proposed. For example, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) recently called for selling off or trading public lands in order to reduce the deficit.

As Rep. Raul Grijalva, who requested the report along with Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), put it:  “Everybody’s penny-pinching, and here’s a penny we haven’t pinched.”

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY and ENERGY pages for more related news on this topic.

--------

Jessica is the manager of research and outreach for the Public Lands Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

 

Sun Cable hopes to start construction of the world's largest solar farm in 2023. Sun Cable
A large expanse of Australia's deserted Outback will house the world's largest solar farm and generate enough energy to export power to Singapore, as The Guardian reported.
Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Construction on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric station in 2015. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Tara Lohan

In 1999 a cheering crowd watched as a backhoe breached a hydroelectric dam on Maine's Kennebec River. The effort to help restore native fish populations and the river's health was hailed as a success and ignited a nationwide movement that spurred 1,200 dam removals in two decades.

Read More Show Less

Trending

We pet owners know how much you love your pooch. It's your best friend. It gives you pure happiness and comfort when you're together. But there are times that dogs can be very challenging, especially if they are suffering from a certain ailment. As a dog owner, all you want to do is ease whatever pain or discomfort your best friend is feeling.

Read More Show Less
A new study has revealed that Earth's biggest mass extinction was triggered by volcanic activity that led to ocean acidification. Illustration by Dawid Adam Iurino (PaleoFactory, Sapienza University of Rome) for Jurikova et al (2020)

The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.

Read More Show Less
Coronavirus-sniffing dogs Miina and Kössi (R) are seen in Vantaa, Finland on September 2, 2020. Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva / AFP/ Getty Images

By Teri Schultz

Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.

Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch