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.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A resident works in the vegetable garden of the Favela Nova Esperanca – a "green favela" which reuses everything and is subject to the ethics of permaculture – in the outskirts of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Feb. 14, 2020. NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP via Getty Images

Farmers are the stewards of our planet's precious soil, one of the least understood and untapped defenses against climate change. Because of its massive potential to store carbon and foundational role in growing our food supply, soil makes farming a solution for both climate change and food security.

Read More Show Less
Once the virus escapes into the air inside a building, you have two options: bring in fresh air from outside or remove the virus from the air inside the building. Halfpoint Images / Getty Images

By Shelly Miller

The vast majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs indoors, most of it from the inhalation of airborne particles that contain the coronavirus. The best way to prevent the virus from spreading in a home or business would be to simply keep infected people away. But this is hard to do when an estimated 40% of cases are asymptomatic and asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus to others.

Read More Show Less
California Senator Kamala Harris endorses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden made a historic announcement Tuesday when he named California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 presidential election.

Read More Show Less
An aerial view taken on August 8, 2020 shows a large patch of leaked oil from the MV Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius. STRINGER / AFP / Getty Images

The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

A northern mockingbird on June 24, 2016. Renee Grayson / CC BY 2.0

Environmentalists and ornithologists found a friend in a federal court on Tuesday when a judge struck down a Trump administration attempt to allow polluters to kill birds without repercussions through rewriting the Migratory Treaty Bird Act (MBTA).

Read More Show Less
A spiny dogfish shark swims in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Washington. NOAA / Wikimedia Commons

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

There are trillions of microplastics in the ocean — they bob on the surface, float through the water column, and accumulate in clusters on the seafloor. With plastic being so ubiquitous, it's inevitable that marine organisms, such as sharks, will ingest them.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. NOAA / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Loveday Wright and Stuart Braun

After a Japanese-owned oil tanker struck a reef off Mauritius on July 25, a prolonged period of inaction is threatening to become an ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less