La Plata County commissioners unanimously approved a letter on Tuesday supporting revisions to the outdated General Mining Act of 1872.
The county’s letter, addressed to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and other delegates, says the Gold King Mine spill that occurred north of Durango in August was “a national wake-up call” for the communities home to hard-rock mining since the 19th century.
Some 500,000 abandoned mines exist in Western states, but the 144-year-old legislation is silent on funding for contaminated site cleanup and taxation on mining companies.
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 was co-sponsored by Bennet and addresses both issues.
“This would modernize the mining act of 1872,” Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said. “It has a direct impact on water quality in the Animas River basin, and we will be delivering this in our congressional meetings next week.”
Commissioners will spend Feb. 20-24 in Washington, D.C., for the National Association of Counties legislative conference, and a meeting with Environmental Protection Agency officials to discuss matters related to the spill.
The letter to Colorado lawmakers also says that existing law “does not require mining companies to provide critical information concerning the minerals extracted and their value, nor does it require royalties to be paid to mitigate abandoned mines on public land, leaving the taxpayers to foot the bill.”
Bennet and Democratic colleagues from New Mexico introduced the bill in November. Under the proposed legislation, royalty rates would be set based on the mining company’s gross income of production, not to exceed 5 percent but no less than 2 percent.
Fees would be deposited in a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund established under the bill, which, along with a slew of other proposed laws aimed at addressing mine pollution, is under review this legislative session.