The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Patrick Donnelly, Center for Biological Diversity,
John Hadder, Great Basin Resource Watch,
Aaron Mintzes, Earthworks,
Thomas Nelson, Save the Scenic Santa Ritas,

Nevada Senator Introduces Bill to Give Away Public Lands to Mining Industry

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto introduced legislation today that would allow the mining industry to turn public lands into toxic mining-waste dumps.

The bill removes most requirements for mining claims and development. Under the bill, mining companies would be allowed to bury public lands under tons of rock waste, construct roads and transmission lines, regardless of whether or not they had proven legal rights to do so. The bill would undo a century of legal precedent requiring mining claimants to prove they discovered a valuable mineral deposit on public lands before they could mine there.

“Sen. Cortez-Masto has become a mining-industry puppet and is throwing communities, Tribes and wildlife under the bus,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The United States should be leading the world in setting the highest environmental standards for mining, especially for minerals needed for the renewable energy transition. Instead, she’s leading a race to the bottom where the only winners are mining company shareholders.”

Waste tailings piles are the source of widespread toxic pollution that have harmed countless communities and Tribal nations across the country. For example, the Questa mine in New Mexico dumped 328 million tons of acid-generating waste rock and more than 100 million tons of tailings in ponds spanning nearly 3,000 acres. The mine’s pollution has tainted water supplies in New Mexico for decades.

“The Cortez Masto legislation would allow New Moly Mining Corp. to cover over federally protected public springs at Mt. Hope here in Nevada with millions of tons of waste rock and create a forever source of water pollution,” said John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch. “Given the enormous ecological and significant climate footprint of mining, the permitting needs to be careful and judicious. This bill does just the opposite.”

The bill creates a legal loophole that could result in millions of acres of public lands becoming mining wastelands, putting that use above watershed protection, cultural resources and recreation.

“Save the Scenic Santa Ritas Association is categorically opposed to this bill,” said Thomas Nelson, Ph.D., board president of Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. “Sen. Cortez-Masto’s legislation would betray U.S. taxpayers by greenlighting a project that would foreclose recreation opportunities, including hiking, biking, fishing, hunting and birdwatching, and threaten the water supply of ranches and nearby homeowners. Corporate, industrial extraction industries should never be given free rein to damage public lands for the purpose of making profits. We must not exclude the public from the public lands that their tax dollars sustain.”

Hardrock mining has left a legacy of contaminated public lands and waters across the West, and taxpayers are usually stuck with the cleanup bill. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, hardrock mining has contaminated more than 40% of western watersheds, and the mining industry is the single-largest source of toxic waste releases in the nation. The estimated cleanup cost of hardrock mines on national forests alone is more than $6 billion.

“This legislation is an unprecedented giveaway to the mining industry, one that would further entrench the legacy of injustice to Indigenous communities and damage to public lands held in trust for future generations,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks. “We need mining reform that serves the needs of mining-impacted communities and taxpayers. Instead of making it easier for irresponsible mining companies to exploit our public lands, we should modernize our mining laws to deliver a more fair, just and equitable hardrock-mine permitting process.”

In 2021 nine Tribes and Indigenous organizations and more than 30 conservation groups petitioned the U.S. Interior Department for a rulemaking seeking to end generations of mining-inflicted injustices to Indigenous communities and chart a new course for public-lands stewardship toward a sustainable, clean-energy economy.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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