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For a pittance, miners can work public land but there's a push to make them pay

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Lisa Friedman
The New York Times
Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House, any company that mines gold or other metals from public land has been able to haul it away without paying a dime in royalties to the federal government.

As demand is spiking for copper, nickel, cobalt, and other metals and minerals that are essential for electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies, the Biden administration says Congress needs to fix the Gold Rush-era General Mining Law so it can better manage the mineral resources buried under millions of acres of public land.

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A top priority: Require companies to pay something in exchange for what they take. Unlike companies that extract oil, gas, and coal from federal lands, hardrock miners pay no royalties to the federal government.

The call to impose a fee of 4 to 8% of the net value of what is mined could translate into as much as $97 million annually and draws sharp opposition from mining operators.

Today the Biden administration said the law needed to be updated to ensure the United States developed a supply of critical minerals that are "responsibly sourced" to achieve Mr. Biden's clean energy goals.

"The biggest takeaway from our report is that our 150-year-old-law, the 1872 mining law, needs to be reformed and brought into the 21st century," Tommy Beaudreau, the deputy secretary of the Interior Department, said.

Developing reliable and responsible domestic sources for critical minerals is "central to the clean energy and technology revolution that are shaping our future for the better," he said. ...

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