US Bill Calls for Uranium Mining Royalties

CHICAGO - Legislation that would shift uranium mining on US federal lands to management through a competitive leasing program rather than the currently used claim and patent system has been introduced in the US House of Representatives by two New Mexico Democratic congressmen.

Previous legislation introduced in the US Senate by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., calling for investigation of whether uranium should be moved to the Mineral Leasing Act system from the 1872 Mining Law has been blocked in the by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The new Legislation introduced on Friday by Rep. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Luj'an would require a 12.5% royalty for uranium mining on federal lands. The Uranium Resources Steward ship Act would include uranium with other fuels - including coal, oil and gas - which are governed by leasing systems and provide for the government to better protect the public's economic and environmental interest, supporters said.

Under current law, uranium miners pay no royalties for minerals taken from public land but frequently have been found to pollute surface and ground water, resulting in a toxic legacy for the areas near mine areas.

"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 non-profit organization working against destructive mineral development, in the US and abroad. Pagel said the 12.5% royalty in the proposed law would allow the industry to contribute to cleaning up old uranium mine sites.

The 1872 Mining Act, passed during the Grant administration to encourage settlement of the West, terms mining the "highest and best" use of public lands over recreation, hunting, fishing and other uses. It also allows sites sacred to Native Americans to be mined while giving tribes little recourse to halt destruction, Earthworks officials said in a statement praising the new legislation.

The group noted that some federal uranium in Colorado is already subject to leasing by the Department of Energy under a program that began in the 1940s to develop reserves of uranium, vanadium and associated minerals for national defense.

Phil Burgert is managing editor of ResourceInvestor.com. He can be contacted at pburgert@resourceinvestor.com.

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