MAC: Mines and Communities

The Great 1872 US Resources Giveaway

Published by MAC on 2011-04-27
Source: PlanetArk (2011-04-18)

Miners rip-off US$1 billion yearly without paying royalties

How could legislation - framed 150 years ago to bulwark domestic US colonialism -  still play a role in determining who mines what, and for how much, on the nation's public lands?

Perhaps the devil only knows...

Meanwhile, huge US utility, TVA, has had to fork out around US$5 billion in settlement of Clean Air violations at 11 coal-fired power plants in three US states.

1872 Mining Law Threatens Grand Canyon

Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent

PlanetArk

18 April 2011

A U.S. law from the pick-and-shovel days of the Western frontier now threatens natural treasures including Grand Canyon National Park as mining claims on public lands proliferate, an environmental group said on Friday.

The 1872 Mining Law, signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, allows mining companies -- including foreign-owned ones -- to take about $1 billion a year in gold and other metals from public lands without paying a royalty, according to a report by the nonprofit Pew Environment Group.

"The law was enacted ... to encourage the development of the West and ... rewarded those people who trekked across the frontier and gave them the right to mine gold, silver, whatever other valuable metals they could find on public land in unlimited amounts for free," said Pew's Jane Danowitz.

While the law has remained largely unchanged, the mining industry has expanded so that now multinational corporations still enjoy "basically free access to a majority of public lands," Danowitz said in a telephone interview.

She said the government estimates these companies legally take at least $1 billion a year worth of gold, uranium and other metals from public lands without compensating U.S. taxpayers.

This contrasts with the oil, gas and coal industries, which have paid royalties to the U.S. Treasury for decades.

As prices for uranium and other metals have risen steeply in the last decade, mining claims near the Grand Canyon and other natural landmarks have soared, according to the report, available online here.

Federal data show that more than 8,000 mining claims have been staked in national forest and other public land around the Grand Canyon since 2004, an increase of 2,000 percent, while more than two-thirds of the claims on public lands near Yosemite National Park and 99 percent of claims surrounding Arches and Canyonlands in Utah have been staked since 2005.

The report found mining claims have also been staked around Joshua Tree National Park in California, Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington state, Siskiyou Wild Rivers in Oregon, Gila Wilderness in New Mexico and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah.

Congressional efforts to overhaul the 1872 Mining Law stalled in 2009, prompting Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to start a process to protect approximately 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon that were threatened by uranium mining operations.

The Obama administration called for comment on four versions of this protection plan, and a decision is expected this summer.

(Editing by Xavier Briand)


Pew report maps 10 national treasures jeopardized by 1872 law

Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining

15 April 2011

As the Obama administration considers whether to put federal land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park off limits to future mining claims, a report by the Pew Environment Group shows many national parks and landmarks are in jeopardy due to a dramatic increase in gold, uranium and other hardrock claims. The report calls on the Obama administration to use its power to protect these sites and work with Congress to modernize the 1872 mining law that still governs hardrock mining on public lands in the West.

Ten Treasures at Stake: New Claims and an Old Law Put Parks and Forests at Risk? uses federal data to map claims staked around 10 national parks, wilderness study areas, historic and cultural sites and other natural landmarks. On the list are Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Arches, Canyonlands and Joshua Tree National Parks; Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota; Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington; Siskiyou Wild Rivers in Oregon; Gila Wilderness in New Mexico; and Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah.

The report finds that more than 8,000 claims have been staked in national forest and other public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon since 2004, a 2,000 percent increase. More than two-thirds of the claims on public lands near Yosemite National Park and 99 percent of claims surrounding Arches and Canyonlands in Utah have been staked since 2005.

Signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, the 1872 law gives mining companies "free and open access" to nearly 350 million acres of public land. It also allows mining companies-even those that are foreign-owned-to take approximately $1 billion annually in gold and other metals from public lands without paying a royalty, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has identified the hardrock mining industry as the nation's top polluter, citing more than $2 billion in federal spending over the past decade on mine cleanup.

After efforts to reform the 1872 law stalled in Congress in 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has called mining law reform a top priority, initiated a process under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to withdraw roughly 1 million acres of public land around the Grand Canyon threatened by uranium mining activity.

On February 17, the Obama administration called for comment on four alternatives. They range from the original proposal of more than 1 million acres to as few as 300,000 acres protected, as well as an option that would allow new claim-staking to resume around the park. A final decision is expected this summer.

"The president has a unique opportunity to stand with leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and defend the Grand Canyon from uranium mining," said Jane Danowitz, U.S. public lands director for the Pew Environment Group.

"With mining allowed on most public lands, the Obama administration should use its power to protect the Grand Canyon and other natural treasures. It should also address the root of the problem by working with Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to modernize the 1872 Mining Law. Protecting the Grand Canyon from mining is something on which lawmakers should agree."


TVA To Invest $3-$5 Billion To Settle EPA Claims

Eileen O'Grady

PlanetArk

15 April 2011

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) will spend as much as $5 billion to reduce coal-plant emissions to settle allegations of Clean Air Act violations at 11 coal-fired power plants in three states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday.

Federally owned TVA also will retire 18 older coal-fired units at three power plants, totaling 2,700 megawatts, starting next year, TVA said in a release. TVA operates about 17,000 MW of coal-fired generation.

The settlement requires TVA to address emissions at plants that account for 92 percent of its coal-fired capacity, EPA said, and will result in reductions in emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and carbon dioxide.

"The message here is we don't have anything against coal, but companies have to clean up their coal pollution," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters in a teleconference.

The lost generation could be made up by switching from coal to natural gas and by cleaner sources such as the burning of biomass.

Modernizing these plants and encouraging clean energy means health protections and greater economic opportunities for the people living near TVA facilities, said Jackson, who grew up in the shadow of heavy industry in Louisiana.

Additional pollution controls will prevent premature deaths, heart attacks and cases of asthma, resulting in $27 billion in annual health benefits, she said.

She said the EPA does not expect that investments by TVA would not drive up utility bills power bills for customers.

More stringent regulation of coal-fired power plants by the EPA may result in the shutdown of between 30,000 and 70,000 megawatts of generation in the next few years and the investment of as much as $80 billion by companies to clean up remaining plants, according to industry estimates.

The settlement agreement calls for TVA to spend $350 million for environmental projects and to promote energy efficiency in communities near its power plants.

TVA will pay $1 million to the National Park Service and the National Forest Service to improve forest and park land damaged by emissions from TVA plants, EPA said.

TVA will also pay a civil penalty of $10 million, with Alabama and Kentucky receiving $500,000 each and Tennessee getting $1 million.

Those states, along with North Carolina, the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and Our Children's Earth Foundation, were involved in developing the settlement, EPA said.

TVA will retire 10 1950s-era units at its Johnsonville plant in Tennessee along with units at the John Sevier and Widows Creek plants already identified as potential units to be shut.

Another 2,800 MW of TVA coal generation identified in the agreement may also be idled or retired if TVA does not invest in new pollution-control equipment.

Last month, TVA said it planned to idle as much as 4,700 MW of coal-fired capacity while increasing renewable, nuclear and natural gas-fired generation over the next two decades.

Environmentalists applauded the settlement. "The days of old, uncontrolled coal plants are coming to a close," said Bruce Nilles, head of the Sierra Club's anti-coal effort. "We are going to see a significant reduction in the amount of coal being burned."

(Additional reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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