Murray Fights Amendment Allowing Mining Companies to Continue Dumping Waste Rock

For Immediate Release: June 26, 1999

(Washington DC)-- Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) today fought an amendment which would allow mining companies to continue to dump large quantities of waste rock on public land during the Senate Appropriations full-committee markup of the Interior Appropriations bill. The amendment was offered by Senator Larry Craig (R-Id) and would nullify the Department of Interior's Solicitor's opinion on mill-site claims. This same issue arose during the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations conference last month.

"The environment and the taxpayers are being cheated by the status quo," said Murray. "Addressing the mill-site issue alone is not mining law reform. I do not oppose mining --- it is an important industry in the United States and one we do not want to lose to other countries. However, I cannot accept more waste rock on our public lands when we are being paid nothing in return."

The hardrock mining industry pays no royalties to the taxpayers for minerals coming from public lands. By comparison the oil and gas industries pay a royalty of approximately 12% to the U.S. treasury. These funds are used to mitigate the impacts that mining operations have on the communities and the environment in which they are performed.

In 1997 the Solicitor of the Interior Department put forward an opinion re-interpreting a section of the 1872 mining law. The Solicitor's opinion limited mill-sites to five acres per mining claim. A mill-site is where the waste rock from mining operations is placed.

The Department of Interior first applied the opinion on the Crown Jewel mine in Washington state. During the Emergency Supplemental Appropriation conference a broad amendment nullifying the Solicitor's opinion was proposed by Senator Gorton, but not accepted. A narrower amendment making the Crown Jewel mine exempt from the Solicitor's opinion was accepted over the objection of Senator Murray. After acceptance of the narrower amendment, Senator Gorton agreed to take up the broader amendment during the consideration of the Interior bill.

Today, Senator Murray again objected to the amendment, calling it "too sweeping for consideration under the Interior Appropriations bill. Mining law in our country is badly in need of broad reform and this issue only highlights that point." The amendment was agreed to 16-9.