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Hardrock Mining: State Regulation

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Publication Date: March 2005

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32813

Topic: Environment (Mining and mineral resources)

Abstract:

Various state and federal laws play important roles in the regulation of mining activities. Mining for hardrock minerals on federal public lands is governed primarily by the General Mining Act of 1872. The General Mining Act authorizes a prospector to locate and claim an area believed to contain a valuable mineral deposit, subject to the payment of certain fees. The General Mining Act does not, however, require payment of a production-related royalty, as is required for federal oil, gas, and other minerals governed by more recently enacted laws. Critics of the General Mining Act suggest that the lack of a royalty payment serves as an unnecessary subsidization of the mining industry, while proponents of the current system suggest that it encourages investment in the domestic mining industry. Legislation has been introduced in previous Congresses that would have required royalty payments, but such provisions have not been enacted into law.

Many states have enacted laws governing mineral rights and mineral development on state-owned lands. Of these laws, those applicable to hardrock minerals on state-owned lands vary considerably. Unlike the comparable federal law, however, many states now provide for state-owned hardrock mineral leases and authorize royalty and rental payment collection.

In addition to financial issues, environmental regulation of hardrock mining also varies significantly under federal and state law. Significantly, the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, which requires certain environmental remediation activities with respect to surface coal mining on federal and non-federal lands, is not applicable to hardrock minerals. Legislative proposals to address concerns related to hardrock mining environmental impacts and abandoned mine reclamation have been introduced in past Congresses (e.g. H.R. 2141 and H.R. 504 in the 108th Congress), but none have been enacted into law. In addition to federal regulation, states are authorized to implement surface mining reclamation laws and many have chosen to regulate hardrock mining operations in addition to surface coal mining. These laws vary from state to state, but most apply equally to federal, state, and private lands.

This report provides a survey of state laws governing these above-mentioned aspects of hardrock mining. It is not meant to serve as a comprehensive description of each state's regulatory program, but instead provides an overview of the regulation of several specific activities associated with hardrock mineral development; focusing on (1) state imposed royalty rates and rental charges for hardrock minerals on state lands and (2) reclamation and bonding requirements for hardrock mining activities applicable to all mining operations.