Law would require companies to bid on leases and pay royalties
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Uranium mining companies would have to pay 12.5 percent royalties and bid competitively for leases under legislative changes proposed by two New Mexico Democrats.
Because of an increased interest in nuclear power and speculation that new nuclear power plants will come online in the U.S.and elsewhere has resulted in a sixfold increase in the price of uranium.
All other fuels — coal, oil and gas — are governed by leasing systems, which allow the government to better protect the public’s economic and environmental interests. Under the 1872 mining law, uranium-mining companies pay no royalty for the minerals they take from public lands. Historic uranium development in the West has polluted surface and ground water and left a toxic legacy in some communities that has yet to be addressed. The 1872 law even allows sites sacred to Native American communities to be mined and gives tribes little recourse to stop the destruction.
The bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Martin Heinrich Ben Ray Luján would shift the regulation of uranium mining from the antiquated mining law to the Mineral Leasing Act. Under the leasing act, companies looking to mine uranium would have to go through a similar leasing process as oil and gas companies operating on public lands — as opposed to the industry-initiated claim and patent system.
“Taxpayers have been fleeced out of millions of dollars in royalties from uranium companies mining on public lands,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director for Earthworks, a mining watchdog group. “The Uranium Resources Stewardship Act charges a moderate 12.5 percent royalty on uranium, which will allow the industry to contribute to cleaning up old uranium mine sites that continue to pollute water and harm nearby communities.”
“The antiquated 1872 Mining Law allows some of our most treasured places, such as the Grand Canyon, to be threatened by uranium mining,” said Pagel. “The Uranium Resources Stewardship Act will give land managers more discretion to decide where uranium mining is and is not appropriate.”
The precedent for leasing uranium already exists — some federal uranium in Colorado is already subject to leasing by the Department of Energy, a program that began late in the 1940’s to ensure an adequate reserve of uranium, vanadium and associated minerals for the nation’s defense program.
“We applaud Congressmen Heinrich and Lujan for their leadership on this issue and for introducing this legislation,” said Pagel. “Sacrificing communities to meet our energy needs must become a practice of the past. It is incumbent upon Congress to protect the water and public health of those communities directly affected uranium mining.”