Legislation introduced to overhaul ancient mining law

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a mining-regulation law — and while resource extraction has changed significantly since then, the rules haven’t. Now Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) is seeking to revamp what he calls “the Jurassic Park of all federal laws,” introducing a proposal that would require land-reclamation plans, make some public lands off-limits to mining, and impose an 8 percent royalty on minerals. The revenue from the tax — similar to what oil, natural gas, and coal companies already pay — would go to clean up highly toxic abandoned mines in the West, but the expected annual $100 million intake might barely make a dent; the Interior Department estimates cleanup may be a $32 billion job. The 1872 law, which does nothing to protect groundwater or force post-extraction cleanup, has led to a “staggering legacy of poisoned streams, abandoned waste dumps, and maimed landscapes,” says Rahall, whose toughest opponent might be Senate Majority Leader (and miner’s son) Harry Reid of gold-happy Nevada.