Government regulations can be a good thing, but sometimes those regulatory standards are fit for a different era. Recently, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D – Ore.) brought a bill to the House floor which will most likely be an uphill battle for the congressman. DeFazio is making a run at those 141-year-old regulations on mining which have created a legacy of health problems and water contamination for Americans since they were never updated to recognized new technology.
DeFazio’s bill would require mining of valuable metal ore to be subject to royalties just as oil, coal, and energy products are required to do. This would be a large problem for mega-donors like Koch Industries who own and operate several iron-ore mining facilities in the US. Recent cuts to various state regulatory standards have allowed companies like Koch compete in low-grade steel commodities which are then sold overseas due to poorer regulatory standards in other countries.
(from Oregon’s Register Guard)
DeFazio’s bill is modeled on legislation approved by the House in 2007. It would charge an 8 percent royalty on new mines and 4 percent on existing ones, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in annual royalties that would be used to clean up thousands of abandoned mining sites around the country. The Government Accountability Office estimates there are at least 161,000 abandoned mines in western states and Alaska, and more than a fifth of those sites have contaminated surface and groundwater, arsenic-laden piles of tailings and other pollution. Without mining-law reform, U.S. taxpayers will have to foot a clean-up bill that could run as high as $72 billion.
The bill would strengthen environmental safeguards and allow the federal agencies to block mines that endanger the environment. Local, state and tribal governments could petition for permit denials, and mining would be prohibited in wilderness study areas, roadless areas, wild and scenic rivers and other special places.
It would also put an end to the current system that allows companies to acquire or “patent” government land for a few dollars an acre — a practice that made sense in the 1870s when the government was encouraging settlement of the West but that has become an outrageous giveaway.
It should be obvious that we need to look at any laws that are over 100 years old. In this particular case, these mining laws are creating even more disasters around groundwater than we can stomach right now amid droughts and contamination from oil or gas drilling. And, in the latter examples, they are at least paying for some of the disasters they create.
DeFazio put this post up on his Facebook page to highlight the reason why he is trying to reform those laws. The toxic dump left behind by the company was legally accomplished through a mix of our corporate tax and finance laws. States are left to foot the bill for those disasters while there is no money set aside for the eventual disasters which can last for hundreds of years or more.