Just 135 years after its enactment, environmentalists and fiscal conservatives may finally have a shot at reforming an antiquated U.S. law that lets mining companies dig up minerals and precious metals on public lands without paying royalties nor being responsible for post-dig cleanups. A bill to change the 1872 General Mining Law passed the House Natural Resources Committee this week and could soon go up for a vote in the House. The legislation would force companies with existing claims on federal land to pay a 4 percent royalty on minerals extracted; new mines would have to pay 8 percent. Collected fees would go toward mine cleanup — two-thirds of the total is slated for clean up of already-existing environmental damage, and one-third would go to local communities affected by mining operations. However, even if the bill passes the House relatively intact, it faces a tough battle in the Senate where majority leader Harry Reid (D), from mine-lovin’ Nevada, opposes meaningful reform of the 1872 law.

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