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Mining companies don't pay to extract minerals from public lands. Senate bill could change that

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources took up a pair of mining bills this week. One of them has called for changes to a major Arizona industry.

The mining act has been in place since 1872, in spite of frequent calls for reform. The law allows companies to extract minerals from public lands without paying royalties.

Conservationists say it doesn’t hold the industry accountable for environmental damage.

An interagency working group under the Biden administration has suggested reforms, and Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico, has introduced a bill that would put some of them in place.

"These are all common-sense updates that would incorporate what we have learned since the 1800s about the environmental impacts of mining and how to mitigate those," said Rachael Hamby, of the Center for Western Priorities.

The bill calls for royalties on minerals at 5-8% of revenue.

"So hard rock minerals are the one resource that we all as American taxpayers own, but mining companies don’t pay us any royalties when they extract those and then profit from them," Hamby said.

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Ron Dungan was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2024.