Earth Matters: Manchin helped kill reform of 1872 mining law that harms people and costs billions

Earth Matters: Manchin helped kill reform of 1872 mining law that harms people and costs billions

Manchin wreckEd latest move to reform 150-YEAR-OLD MINING LAW 

Sen. Joe Manchin III has got a lot of reasons for that smile.

In the last year of his first term as president, Ulysses S. Grant signed the 1872 Mining Law that set modest rules for individuals and corporations to stake mineral claims on land never before in private hands. That is, land snatched at gunpoint from Indigenous peoples. This allowed royalty-free extraction not only of gold and silver, but also numerous other minerals that today include lithium, essential  for electric vehicle batteries. According to Earthworks, in the century and a half since the law went into effect, the mining industry has pulled an estimated $300 billion worth of minerals from public lands, leaving giant, toxic messes behind.

You would be hard-pressed to find another statute that has been on the books as long with no more than minor tweaks over the decades. By comparison with hard-rock mining, which brought in just $71 million in administrative fees in 2018, the federal leasing system for energy resources, which accounts for 17% of mining on federal lands, brought in $550 million in royalties, coal being by far the largest generator of this revenue. 

On its 100th anniversary in 1972, environmental advocates and other activists made a vigorous effort to reform the law. But mining lobbyists and their congressional allies easily beat back the attempt. Since 2007, members of Congress have introduced reforms to the law six times without success. In 2019, the mining giant BHP Group and the National Mining Association spent $1.2 million in a  lobbying campaign to defeat the proposed reform. Another attempt was made this August when Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, added mining law reform language to what was then the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, since axed to $1.7 trillion or so and still chopping. This would have set an 8% royalty on existing mines and 4% on new ones and a 7-cent fee for every ton of rock extracted. One estimate says this would raise $2 billion in revenue over 10 years. Given that the feds have incomplete data on the value of minerals extracted from public lands, this is likely a significant undercount. 

Enter Democratic spoiler Sen. Joe Manchin, the chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee.

As first recounted by Cody Nelson at High Country News last month, Manchin said Oct. 5 that Congress should bring the “outdated law into the 21st century”: 

“Modern mining works at an enormous scale using modern technology that would have been inconceivable back in 1872. Unfortunately, this scale has contributed to some enormous abandoned mine problems and the public is often stuck with the bill. Unlike the coal industry, where every coal company pays into an abandoned mine land reclamation fund, there is no revenue stream to address the enormous legacy of environmental degradation from hardrock mining in the western United States. It strikes me as fair that taxpayers get a share of the profits and a means to address abandoned mines in exchange for the privilege of conducting mining operations on public lands. While we may disagree on the precise path reform should take, I hope we can all agree that the Mining Law is outdated for the current needs of society and industry and that we should carefully consider updates to address these shortfalls,”

That made him sound almost like an environmentalist. Less than two weeks later, however, Manchin was promising Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto that he would block any royalties. Sure enough, on Nov. 4, the mining law reform had vanished from Build Back Better. From centrist Cortez Masto’s point of view, this is helpful for her reelection campaign next year, gold mining being a big deal in Nevada, with $8.2 billion worth of the stuff extracted in the state in 2020. Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, Cortez Masto’s predecessor, also opposed mining law reforms.

Nelson puts much of the blame for sandbagging the law on corporate lobbyists and campaign donations:

According to OpenSecrets, Manchin received more campaign donations from the mining industry than anyone else in Congress, raising nearly $50,000 from the industry in the current fundraising cycle. Cortez Masto’s campaign also benefited: Both the National Mining Association trade group and Barrick Gold Corp., one of Nevada’s largest mining companies, have recently donated to her campaign.

As Earthworks points out, failure to reform the 150-year-old law directly harms Americans today:

America is littered with hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that EPA estimates will cost taxpayers $50 billion+ to clean up. And taxpayers are potentially liable for billions more in cleanup costs at currently operating mines.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of the headwaters of western U.S. watersheds have been polluted by mining.
The Associated Press reports (as of 2019) that every day hardrock mines collectively produce around 50 million gallons of polluted waters, threatening water supplies of downstream communities.
Hardrock mining can pollute water for thousands of years after a mine closes, requiring perpetual water treatment–and the funding for that treatment—to protect communities who live downstream. Dozens of perpetually water-polluting mines are permitted and more are proposed.

California ADDS New Environmental Laws 

Victoria Rome at the National Resources Defense Council recently took a look at 10 environmental laws that got California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature this year. Here are three of them:

If concrete were a country, it would the world’s fourth-largest greenhouse-gas emitter, accounting for 8% of the total. Last year, 30 billion tons of concrete were produced globally. The stuff is everywhere. It’s a mix of cement powder, aggregate, sand, and water. But while cement only makes up the 15% or so of the mix, it produces 80% to 90% of concrete’s greenhouse-gas emissions, a byproduct of baking limestone at high temperatures. In California, cement-making is the second-biggest industrial GHG emitter, after oil and gas production. This spurred the passage of Senate Bill 596, introduced by Democratic Sen. Josh Becker. The law directs the California Air Resources Board to come up with a strategy to reduce GHG emissions from cement used in the state to net-zero as soon as possible, but no later than 2045. SB 596 was developed by broad coalition together with the California Nevada Cement Association, which ultimately supported it.

AB 896 authorizes the state’s Oil and Gas Supervisor to impose a lien on property owned by any operator of an oil or gas well in an amount equal to an estimate of the cost of clean-up work. California ranks No. 7 among the states with the most oil production, but is headed toward elimination of fossil fuel use over the next 25 years. Unfortunately, as in the other 31 oil-producing states, the industry is well-noted for pulling up stakes and leaving behind its mess for others to clean up. While the law requires remediation of sites and plugging of wells after production ceases, many operators simply abandon their facilities and can no longer be tracked down because they have dissolved their business or gone bankrupt. Thus, thousands of drill sites become “orphans,” leaving taxpayers to shoulder the burden of cleaning up the abandoned wells, many of which leak methane and pose a danger of explosions. In a 2018 study, the California Council on Science and Technology found that cleaning up existing orphan wells would cost the state about $500 million. Plugging all of the state’s still operating wells, CCST concluded, could cost $9 billion.

AB 1200 bans PFAS in paper-based food packaging starting Jan. 1, 2023. PFAS include thousands chemicals used in industrial and consumer products. These include non-stick cookware and food packaging. PFAS do not decompose and have spread throughout the environment. They can cause many harmful effects, so much so that the California Department of Toxic Substance Control labels PFAS a serious threat to public health. The new law prohibits PFAS being intentionally added to a product or their presence in a product above 100 parts per million, whether intentionally added or not. 

Report points out that U.S. is planet’s worst plastic polluter

As the fossil fuel industry prepares to greatly expand its production of plastic, a 211-page report released Wednesday concludes that the United States is the world’s leading contributor to the plague of plastic trash that harms marine life. Titled Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste, the report was congressionally mandated in the Save Our Seas 2.0 act in 2020 and published by the National Academy of Sciences. The authors say that, by the end of next year, the United States should create a national strategy for dealing with the problem. 

The success of the 20th century miracle invention of plastics has also produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look. The visibility of global ocean plastic waste, paired with increasing documentation of its ubiquity, devastating impacts on ocean health and marine wildlife, and transport through the food web, has brought widespread public awareness. Recent global attention has made it clear that the ocean plastic waste problem is linked inextricably to the increasing production of plastics and how we use and treat plastic products and waste from their beginning to well beyond the end of their useful lives.

In the past six decades, plastic waste in the United States has soared to 42 metric tons a year, a total more than all of the European Union nations combined. This comes out to 287 pounds for each person in the States. Recycling is utterly unable to keep pace. Worldwide, about 8.8 million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans. Scientists say that figure could be 53 million tons a year by 2030. Between 1.13 tons and 2.24 tons of that comes from the United States. Some of this plastic takes centuries to decompose.

According to a 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the ocean is set to be more plastic than fish by 2050 in what is described as a “global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look.”

Said Margaret Spring, chief conservation and science officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California who chaired the committee of experts who put together the report, “Plastic waste generated by the U.S. has so many consequences, impacting inland and coastal communities, polluting our rivers, lakes, beaches, bays, and waterways, placing social and economic burdens on vulnerable populations, endangering marine habitats and wildlife and contaminating waters upon which humans depend for food and livelihoods.”

The American Chemistry Council has been making noises about preventing the entry of plastic waste into the ocean, but Joshua Baca, vice president of the group said, “The report also supports setting recycling targets, creating producer responsibility systems, and measuring progress. All these recommendations are components of our 5 Actions for Sustainable Change and 5 Principles to End Plastic Waste Globally. Unfortunately, the report also suggests restricting plastic production to reduce marine debris. This is misguided and would lead to supply chain disruptions, economic and inflationary pressure on already hurt consumers, and worse environmental outcomes, particularly related to climate change.”

ECO-TWEET

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— Green is a mission (@Greenisamissio1) November 27, 2021

SHORT TAKES

Young Sumatran tiger. Only about 500 of this subspecies remain, and their numbers are dwindling from a shrinking habitat and poachers.

Sumatran tigers, the world’s smallest, edge toward extinction, threatening biodiversityThe planet’s remaining 4-500 Sumatran (aka Sunda) tigers now live only in the forests of Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island. But if habitat loss and poaching trends continue, the animal that once roamed throughout the Sunda islands that make up the bulk of Indonesia, will go the way of the vanished Bali tiger and Javan tiger. Sumatra is the only place in the world where tigers, rhinos, orangutans, and elephants still live on the same turf. It is estimated that the Sumatran tiger population is dwindling at the annual rate of 3.2% to 5.9%, with the population of those other animals also shrinking. The loss is due to human-tiger conflict over livestock, shrinking habitat, and poaching for whiskers, teeth, bones, and claws used in jewelry and traditional Chinese medicine. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature is among environmental advocacy groups working to protect these animals. But they face a daunting task.

The Longview Power Plant, a coal-fired plant, stands on August 21, 2018, in Maidsville, West Virginia. 

Despite a relaxed pollution rule, coal operators blame EPA for shutdowns: The Trump administration wasn’t exactly known for imposing stricter environmental rules on anything, having appointed a man to run the Environmental Protection Agency who hated the agency and had sued it 14 times. Among the changes the administration pushed through was the relaxing of a 2015 Obama-era wastewater rule meant to reduce levels of toxic chemicals at coal-fired power plants. This was the first time in 30 years that the feds had moved to curtail these poisons, which include arsenic, mercury, nitrogen, and selenium. The waste often escapes from settling ponds into waterways, a practice that “has made coal plants the largest source of toxic industrial wastewater pollution in the nation,” according to the EPA. Changing energy economics is a key reason behind the shuttering of coal plants, but stricter pollution controls are an element of those economics. Twenty-one operators have announced their intent to close their facilities, and six are switching to natural gas. To at least some extent, most of them are blaming “effluent limitation guidelines” for the situation.

But a loophole is allowing coal-fired utilities a seven-year period in which they are allowed to delay such installations and keep operating and discharging polluted waste in waterways as long as they tell state regulators that they plan to invest in technology to clean up wastewater. Thomas Cmar, an attorney who represents the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, told GreenWire, “To me, it’s all consistent. This is one of the loopholes. Overall, these power plants, many of them haven’t had to make any meaningful investments in upgrading their wastewater treatment for decades, and it’s been because of the utilities’ years of lobbying and litigation that they’ve delayed being required to modernize their wastewater treatment.”

Commerce Secretary Raimondo warns chip shortage could hamstring EV production: In a speech Monday at the Detroit Economic Club, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said the worldwide computer chip shortage could hinder production of electric vehicles. She urged the House of Representatives to immediately pass the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act that cleared the Senate in June and includes the CHIPS Act, which would spur more homegrown production. Currently, U.S. chipmakers produce about 12% of the world total, compared with 40% in the 1990s. “The average electric vehicle has about 2,000 chips, roughly double the average number of chips in a non-electric car,” Raimondo told the Detroit News. “As companies like Ford and GM compete to grab a foothold in the electric vehicle market, we know that innovation in the American battery market will be stifled if we aren’t also investing in domestic semiconductor innovation at the same time.”

Ten million deaths from smog each year: David Wallace-Wells writes,

Not​ all deaths are created equal. In February 2020, the world began to panic about the novel coronavirus, which killed 2714 people that month. This made the news. In the same month, around 800,000 people died from the effects of air pollution. That didn’t. Novelty counts for a lot. At the start of the pandemic, it was considered unseemly to make comparisons like these. But comparing the value of human lives is one thing the machine of modern civilisation does relentlessly, almost invariably to prioritise and absolve the rich – when, for example, the global supply of Covid vaccines is apportioned primarily to the highest-income countries, or when the cost of natural disasters in Bangladesh is measured against the impact of sea-level rise on Miami Beach real estate, or when Joe Biden’s onetime economic adviser Lawrence Summers proposed that Africa, as a whole, was ‘vastly under polluted’, and suggested that ‘the economic logic behind dumping a whole load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable.’

Panel probes possible discrimination in federal response to hurricanes: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is digging into how the federal government responded to hurricanes that tore through Puerto Rico and Texas four years ago. The eight-member advisory panel has in the past uncovered environmental injustices. In 2016, for example, it found that the disposal of toxic coal ash—a byproduct of coal-fired generation of electricity—overwhelmingly occurs in or close to low-income, communities, most of whose residents are Black or other people of color. Carlos Martín, an expert on disaster policy at the Brookings Institution, told ClimateWire, “This is an important turn because the [commission] hasn’t held formal inquiries on any disaster before. It’s another step in pushing for accountability by FEMA.” The commission has no regulatory authority, but its investigation could spur federal agencies and Congress to change policies if these are found to discriminate against Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well as people with disabilities. 

WEEKLY ECO-VIDEO

A HALF DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ

• Cars Are Killing Us (Says a Former City DOT Official!) We let their production dominate our economies without a thought of how private car ownership would affect our living spaces. By Dave Gurin

• At the forefront: The biggest state clean energy legislative trends of 2021. States continue to act as laboratories of innovation, taking unique policy approaches and testing their own solutions to various clean energy policy issues. By Autumn Proudlove

•  The average person’s daily choices can still make a big difference in fighting climate change —and in getting governments and utilities to tackle it, tooThe average American’s everyday interactions with energy sources are limited. They range from turning appliances on or off, to commuting, to paying utility bills. The connections between those acts and rising global temperatures may seem distant. However, individuals hold many keys to unlocking solutions to climate change – the biggest challenge our species currently faces – which is perhaps why the fossil fuel industry spent decades misleading and misinforming the public about it. By Tom Ptak

• Why COP26 Flopped. Western observers want to blame India for the failure of the U.N. climate talks. Not so fast. By Basav Sen

• Can the Department of Energy’s community solar target to power 5 million homes be met? Not without state-level support. Without putting forth the resources and rewarding effective blueprints to pull off a monumental scaling effort of community solar, the DOE’s new targets will not be met. By Mike Gordon

• A Call to Prioritize Social Equity in Ocean Conservation. Modern conservation practices were largely developed without considering justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Humans have been viewed as separate from nature. Indigenous and local knowledge has been mostly dismissed. And communities have been left out of decisions that directly impact their ocean, land, and heritage. A Q&A with Nathan Bennett, Laure Katz, and Angelo Villagomez

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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