Modernizing 1872 Mining Law necessary to clean up abandoned mines

New bills would help alleviate an estimated $54 billion in abandoned hardrock mine clean up  

 For immediate release 

May 9, 2019  

Contact: Corey Fisher, (406) 546-2979, 

Steve Moyer, (703) 284-9406, 

May 9, 2019 (WASHINGTON D.C.) — A group of lawmakers have introduced legislation this week to modernize the 1872 Mining Law by establishing a federal lands hardrock mining management system for permitting and royalty payments.  Currently, companies who mine on federal lands are not required to pay royalty or reclamation fees such as what the coal, oil and gas industries have paid for decades. 

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the House Committee on Natural Resource’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the “Hardrock Leasing and Reclamation Act of 2019”, introduced by Representative Grijalva and cosponsored by Rep. Beyer, Rep. Blumenauer, Rep. Cartwright, Rep. DeFazio, Rep. DeGette, Rep. Garamendi, Rep. Haaland, Rep. Huffman, Rep. Levin, Rep. McGovern, Rep. Napolitano, Rep. Holmes Norton, Rep. Pocan, and Rep. Soto. In the U.S Senate, Senator Udall introduced a similar bill, the “Hardrock Mining Reform Act of 2019”, which is supported by Sen. Heinrich, Sen. Bennet, Sen. Markey, Sen. Wyden, Sen. Booker, Sen. Harris, and Sen. Merkley. 

Importantly, the bills would establish a reclamation fund to help with the restoration of land and water resources adversely affected by past hardrock mineral activities. There are an estimated 33,000 abandoned mine sites in the American West that have degraded the environment and the cost of cleaning them up could reach as much as $54 billion. 

 “We appreciate the efforts by these lawmakers to modernize our mining laws and fund the cleanup of abandoned mines. We work closely with the mining industry to clean up abandoned hardrock mines, but a dedicated funding source is essential to increase the pace and scale of abandoned mine reclamation,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The EPA estimates that 40 percent of western headwater streams – the very places native trout persist, and drinking water originates – are affected by abandoned mines. A law that was written to hasten the nation’s westward migration is not adequate to clean up these ticking time bombs and we welcome efforts to bring mining laws into the 21st century.” 

A second major priority of Trout Unlimited’s that is addressed by the bills is increasing the authority of the federal land management agencies to improve the siting and control of adverse impacts from new mining proposals. Under current law the agencies have insufficient authority to ensure that new mines avoid high value fish and wildlife areas critical for hunting and fishing. Avoiding impacts from new mines should be a very high priority, so we are not saddled with cleaning up even more mine pollution problems down the road. 

The 1872 Mining Law allows hardrock mining companies to extract gold, silver, copper, and other minerals from public land without paying any royalties to help fund cleanups of past or present mining impacts. That’s not the case with the coal and oil and gas industries, which for decades have been required to pay royalties. 

“Mining has played an important role in the development of our country and our economy, and that needs to continue, but it is time modernize the 1872 Mining Law. A new mining law should both provide the certainty needed by industry while providing the tools and resources needed to clean up one of the nation’s biggest threats to clean water,” continued Wood. 

TU is working hard to find a legislative path forward on a proposal that would increase the ability of third-party Good Samaritans — those entities like TU not responsible for mine pollution but who want to volunteer to clean up an orphan mine site — to engage in the remediation of abandoned mine pollution. Such authority is critical for allowing the bill’s reclamation fund to realize its potential. 

“TU has a proven record of cleanup success through partnerships with a number of forward-looking mining companies, landowners and state and federal agencies. Such successes could be greatly enhanced with the dedicated funding that this bill would provide,” said Wood.  

For more information contact Steve Moyer,, 703-284-9406 


Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and TwitterInstagram and follow our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.