Home / Opinion / Commentary / Mining reform America and Arizona need would protect the environment

Mining reform America and Arizona need would protect the environment


In a recent column, National Mining Association President Hal Quinn concealed his call to weaken environmental standards for mining under the guise of infrastructure rebuilding. It echoes orders from President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to gut bedrock environmental laws in the name of infrastructure and national security, claiming that fast-tracking permits for domestic mines will make the United States less reliant on foreign countries for so-called “critical minerals.”

Jennifer Krill

Jennifer Krill

We have come to expect the mining lobby to use deceptive rhetoric to advance its agenda, but it’s alarming to hear it from the White House. We are witnessing a coordinated attempt to further erode already flimsy community and environmental protections against the impacts of hardrock mining. Yes, we need to change U.S. mining policy, but not to loosen oversight. Communities across the country are living with mining pollution, and taxpayers – not the polluters – are too often paying for cleanup.

The General Mining Law that governs today’s mining industry was signed into law in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. It’s a relic of the Manifest Destiny era of pick-and-shovel miners, completely out of touch and out of scale with the landscape-level impacts of today’s mining operations. Too often these mines leave behind devastation that taxpayers must pay for and communities must endure.

The hardrock mining industry is the country’s largest source of toxic pollution, according to the Toxic Release Inventory, and it’s time they were held accountable for their pollution.

The United States has one of the most permissive hardrock mining regulatory regimes in the world. Unlike other extractive industries like coal, oil and gas, under the 1872 law, mining companies pay no royalties for the minerals they claim. This “finders, keepers” approach has funneled more than $300 billion in public wealth into private hands, often foreign-owned companies, since 1872.

American taxpayers already shoulder an enormous financial burden from hardrock mining. The EPA estimates the cost to clean up America’s hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines at more than $50 billion – a sum far in excess of the entire annual Superfund budget (which the Trump Administration has proposed to cut a further 30 percent).

We need a modern law that prioritizes American citizens over foreign corporations, similar to the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act introduced by U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, N.M.; Martin Heinrich, N.M.; Ron Wyden, Ore.; and Michael Bennet, Colo. Their bill would protect communities and the environment by balancing industrial-scale mining with other important land uses, such as water supplies, conservation, recreation and renewable energy development. Under the 1872 law, mining is considered the “highest and best use” of public land, trumping – literally – all other considerations.

Minerals are important. We absolutely need copper, for example, to make everything from pipes to wind turbines. But the free market allows supply to meet demand. China’s share of the copper market has absolutely no bearing on our national security. Even if it did, the Trump and Zinke orders do nothing to prevent foreign corporations from getting free and unfettered access to our minerals. In fact, a Chinese company recently purchased America’s only rare earth mine, Mountain Pass in San Bernardino County.

What is the problem we are trying to solve? Will “streamlining” make us more secure? The United States is already mining-friendly, according to the industry itself. The Fraser Institute’s 2016 Annual Survey of Mining Companies named Nevada and Arizona among the world’s “Top 10 Most Attractive Jurisdictions for Mining Investment.” And a report from the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that mine permitting takes an average of two years – similar to other major developed countries. Delays in the process are primarily due to the company, not the government.

The president and Secretary Zinke are wrong to direct our government to reduce community input in mining decisions. Our communities need up-to-date mining laws that protect our families, our water and our future.

— Jennifer Krill is executive director of Earthworks, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the adverse impacts of mineral and energy development while promoting sustainable solutions.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.


  1. Jennifer Krill is the director of Earthworks, an environmental organization, who has testified before Congress on many occasions. On March 21, 2013, Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks testified before a Congressional Committee with regard to the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act. Her response to the question “has Earthworks ever endorsed or supported a mining operation in the United States” was “no”.

    Having worked with issues dealing with responsible mining for more than a decade, I am very familiar with the activities of Earthworks and its affiliate the Arizona Mining Coalition. During this period I have never seen nor heard them offer a single constructive suggestion on how impacts of a proposed mining project could be minimized. To the contrary, they have always opposed all sorts of mining activities and vigorously worked to place as many obstacles in the way as possible regardless of efforts made to minimize its impacts.

    Just saying “no” is not a viable option. It only obstructs pragmatic efforts by industry, government and other stakeholders to find realistic solutions for difficult issues related to mining’s impact on the environment.

  2. Yea, with all due respect Jennifer, you don’t have a clue what your talking about. You have done a nice job of copy and paste of outdated technology. Current regulations hold up infrastructure projects/mining/building in many cases 10-20 years. Thanks to Obama, a puddle of water is literally protected by the EPA as a navigable water way, so absolutely no building in or around it. Superfund sites and mine spills you mention across the United States are old, abandoned mines that were not post mining closed properly due to either regulations or no financial ownership. Current regulations do prevent that and current technology that the USACOE evaluates, and is the most stringent NEPA process in the world, also prevent that. You are part of the Banana build anything nowhere and not anytime movement that has made the once great United States a slave to other countries because we can’t produce anything here anymore. Enjoy that smart phone and Ipad that has internal components all made from other countries and keep banging that liberal drum.

  3. Hello folks.

    With respect to David, I’ll note he doesn’t engage on the issues. Perhaps that’s because he knows she’s right? On what he DOES argue, let’s engage on the facts. The state of Wisconsin in 1998 with majority bipartisan support enacted a moratorium (not a ban) on sulfide mining which would be lifted when any such mine, anywhere, had demonstrated it could operate for 10 years without polluting water and close without polluting water. Guess what: 20 years on, no mine did. So Gov Walker lifted the moratorium — essentially conceding mines inevitably pollute.

    Further, the only comparison of modern day mining promises (before operations) vs reality (what they actually did) shows that more than 75% of federally permitted mines pollute water despite promises to the contrary.

    With respect to Russ, he is misinformed. Both because the U.S. Govt Accountability Office (Congress’s investigatory body) analyzed the issue and found that most mines are permitted in just a few years — in line with what other democratic governments like Canada and Australia do — and that delays are usually the company’s fault. Russ also apparently just doesn’t believe Ms Krill, but the fact is THE MINING INDUSTRY ITSELF reports (when it’s not lobbying Congress) that the United States’ mining regs are a competitive advantage relative to other jurisdictions around the world. The Fraser Institute, which conducts this survey annually, is akin in ideological leanings to the American Enterprise Institute.


    WI mining moratorium:

    Mining promises vs reality: https://earthworks.org/publications/predicting_water_quality_problems_at_hardrock_mines_-_an_earthworks_white/

    U.S. GAO survey of mine permitting:

    Fraser Institute annual survey of mining executives:

  4. Brendan McLaughlin

    Mining policy is an important issue, and I appreciate the Capitol Times publishing this piece. The cost of cleaning up hard rock mining operations has often fallen on the American taxpayer. The EPA has identified a backlog of $20-54 billion in clean-up costs from hardrock mining. Fast-tracking new mines without a thorough, transparent review process risks creating more Superfund sites that burden communities with perpetual water quality problems, and taxpayers with even more expensive cleanup. We need to update the 1872 Mining Law to ensure accountability from the mining industry and fair treatment of the American taxpayer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *




Check Also

Colorado River
August 19, 2007
Photo by Central Arizona Project

Water rights for tribes is environmental justice

This month, the comment period for a potentially landmark piece of legislation ended. Since California v. Arizona in 2000, the Colorado River Indian Tribes have the sole rights to more than 600,000 acres-feet of water from the Colorado River, but they are barred from selling or leasing any of this water to outside communities.

/* code for tag simpli.fi */