The president's budget blueprint would enact a new fee on hardrock mineral production to help pay for reclamation of abandoned hardrock mines. It also requires royalties from companies mining certain minerals, including gold, copper, lead and uranium.
Obama's proposal is a nod to environmentalists and other advocates who say the 1872 General Mining Act is in desperate need of an overhaul.
"Certainly we are pleased the Obama administration is taking a step in the right direction," said Jane Danowitz, public lands director for the Pew Environment Group, in a recent interview. "This is a law that basically hasn't been changed in almost 140 years."
Many lawmakers, especially Republicans, see the president's plan as a tax on the mining industry that could hurt job creation. They see new fees and taxes as
the opposite of what voters called for during the midterm elections.
"The hardrock mining proposal in the budget is ... problematic," said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), chairman of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, at a hearing earlier this year with Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey. "The budget would basically raise taxes on hardrock mining."
Raulston said investment in U.S. mineral production has declined over the years and, as a result, the country has become more reliant on imports. She blamed the long permitting process for at least some of that investment drop.
"Almost all of the metals covered by the general mining law are sold on a world market," Raulston said. "Those prices are set twice a day. You have to be able to be competitive in your cost of production in order to attract investment."
Raulston also spoke about how difficult it can be to remove minerals from the ground. Other industry leaders echo her comments.
"Minerals are difficult to find, they are expensive to develop, expensive to mine," Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said in a recent interview.
"It takes significant processing and refinement," Raulston said.
Obama's budget proposal includes a royalty of no less than 5 percent of gross proceeds. Raulston said the industry prefers a net proceeds formulation -- "something that will keep us competitive."
But environmentalists see the hardrock industry as wanting to perpetuate its privileged status in American law.
"They have power. They have a lot of power," Newcomer said. "They have money."http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2011/03/16/..