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Environmental Working Group: Rahall Bill Strikes Right Balance Between Mining and Protection of Environment and Public's Health

For Immediate Release: 
Saturday, March 10, 2007

(WASHINGTON) — As new mining claims multiply across the Western United States, Environmental Working Group (EWG) applauds House Natural Resources Committee Chairman, U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) for reintroducing much-needed mining reform legislation. In a recent investigation of federal land records, EWG found that since the end of 2002, mining interests have staked new claims on 2.3 million acres of Western public lands — an area roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park. The number of mining claims staked in the Western U.S. increased by almost 50 percent. The surge in mining activity has been driven by higher prices for copper, gold and uranium. Among other findings, EWG determined that mining interests have staked 365 new claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. Many, if not most, of these claims are for uranium.

"Congressman Rahall's bill is an important step toward a mining law that strikes the right balance between mining and the protection of our health, land and water," said EWG analyst Dusty Horwitt. "We look forward to working with Westerners, members of Congress and others to bring our mining law into the 21st Century."

Metal mining has left a legacy of toxic pollution across the West, including scores of radioactive uranium mining sites that have caused disease and premature death. Rep. Rahall's bill would help address the impacts of mining through several measures. The bill's provisions include a requirement that mining companies pay a royalty to taxpayers for the metal they mine on federal land (currently, metal mining is the only extractive industry that does not pay a royalty), the creation of a fund to clean up abandoned mines, improved reclamation standards to ensure that companies minimize impacts to land and water and a permanent ban on the outright sale of federal land under the mining law (there is currently a temporary ban).

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EWG is a nonprofit research group based in Washington, D.C., that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. The group's research on mining of public lands is available at http://www.ewg.org/sites/mining_google/US/.

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