One campaigner argued that rather than serving mining companies, Congress should pass "meaningful reforms that will protect communities, special places, and sacred sites from unnecessary destruction."
Green groups on Tuesday blasted U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto for introducing legislation that would reverse a recent judicial decision and alter federal mining policy in ways welcomed by industry but lambasted by land defenders.
Noting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that upheld an earlier ruling against the Rosemont copper mine in Arizona, Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) unveiled the Mining Regulatory Clarity Act, which is also co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).
"The bill would amend a 1993 budget reconciliation act but primarily clarifies definitions of activities and rights central to the 1872 Mining Law," The Associated Press explained. "The language is intended to insulate mines from the more onerous and likely most expensive standards imposed on the industry by the 9th Circuit ruling, which was a significant departure from long-established mining practices that environmentalists have fought for decades."
"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."
While Cortez Masto—who last year narrowly won reelection and last month joined a failed GOP effort to gut water protections—highlighted that Nevada is home to "critical minerals... key to our clean energy future," and what the mining industry means for jobs in her state, environmentalists stressed that her bill would make it easier for companies to dump rock waste on and further disrupt public lands.
"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," declared Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel.
"We need mining reform that serves the needs of mining-impacted communities and taxpayers," she argued. "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."
Earthjustice senior legislative representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley agreed that the bill "is a wholesale giveaway to mining companies" that "have long abused" the 1872 law by "unlawfully claiming a right to destroy public lands to maximize profits."
Cortez Masto's bill "would condone that illegal practice, essentially giving mining companies a free pass to occupy our public lands and lock out other uses—including for recreation, conservation, clean energy, and cultural purposes," Miller-McFeeley said.
"Mining companies have left a trail of environmental destruction and human health catastrophes as a direct result of poorly regulated practices and corporate greed," he added. "As we prepare to source the raw materials needed to build out the clean energy infrastructure of the future, we urge Congress to stop doing the bidding of greedy mining corporations and instead, work on meaningful reforms that will protect communities, special places, and sacred sites from unnecessary destruction."
\u201cThis is bad news for #publiclands. \n\nMining must take place responsibly, or not at all. \n\nhttps://t.co/nGPDATIOR3\u201d— Western Priorities (@Western Priorities) 1682442742
Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity, also called out the Nevada Democrat's push, charging that "Sen. Cortez Masto has become a mining-industry puppet and is throwing communities, tribes, and wildlife under the bus."
"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," Donnelly continued. "Instead, she's leading a race to the bottom where the only winners are mining company shareholders."
The proposal exposes local divisions: The Nevada Mining Association, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council, and the company Nevada Vanadium all applauded it, but other groups, such as Save the Scenic Santa Ritas Association, slammed the bill.
"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 bird-watching, and threaten the water supply of ranches and nearby homeowners," said Thomas Nelson, the association's board president. "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."
John Hadder, director of Great Basin Resource Watch, warned that the legislation "would allow New Moly Mining Corp. to cover over federally protected public springs at Mount Hope here in Nevada with millions of tons of waste rock and create a forever source of water pollution."
"Given the enormous ecological and significant climate footprint of mining, the permitting needs to be careful and judicious," Hadder asserted. "This bill does just the opposite."
The Rosemont decision has already been cited in two other judicial decisions. As the AP detailed:
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno ruled in February that the Bureau of Land Management had violated the law when it approved Lithium Americas' plans for the Thacker Pass mine near the Nevada-Oregon line. But she allowed construction to begin last month while the bureau works to bring the project into compliance with federal law.
The 9th Circuit has scheduled oral arguments June 26 on environmentalists' appeal of Du's refusal to halt the mine even though she found it was approved illegally.
Last month, U.S. Judge Larry Hicks in Reno also adopted the Rosemont standard in his ruling that nullified Bureau of Land Management approval of a Nevada molybdenum mine and prohibited any construction.
As Cortez Masto and the other co-sponsors unveiled their bill on Tuesday, Native elders and other land defenders blocked construction on the Thacker Pass mine, with some holding a banner that said: "Enough is enough! Stop the destruction."