Balance is also an important concept as we discuss reform of the Mining Law of 1872. While the responsible development of our mineral resources is critical to both our economy and our environment, this statute has not been updated in 137 years. In those years, much has changed. It is time to ensure a fair return to the public for mining activities that occur on public lands and to address the cleanup of abandoned mines. We must find an approach to modernize this law and ensure that development occurs in a manner consistent with the needs of mining and the protection of the public, our public lands, and water resources. It is time to make reform of the Mining Law part of our agenda of responsible resource development.
Much has been said about the role the General Mining Law of 1872 played in settling the western United States, how it provided an opportunity for any citizen of the country to explore public domain lands for valuable minerals, to stake a claim if the mineral could be extracted at a profit, and to patent the claim. Numerous commodities are mined, under the authority of the General Mining Law, to provide the raw materials essential for the manufacturing and building industries. According to the BLM, the 5-year average for new mining claims staked annually under the law is approximately 76,000, with a current total number of claims at nearly 400,000. These claims generated almost $60 million in federal revenue-- mostly from the fees collected by BLM -- in fiscal year 2008.
Our domestic gold mining industry alone directly or indirectly creates more than 66,000 jobs and nearly $2 billion in earnings annually. The U.S. is the second largest producer of gold and copper in the world, and the leading producer of beryllium, gypsum, and molybdenum. In my view, our own security depends on maintaining a viable domestic mining industry. Metals and minerals are also needed to support development of renewable energy. As the U.S. Senate undertakes reform of the 1872 Mining Law, patent reform, and the environmental consequences of modern mining practices must be addressed in meaningful and substantive ways. In addition, the American taxpayer should receive a fair return for the extraction of these valuable resources and should expect the federal government to develop a reliable process providing for the cleanup and restoration of lands where the responsible party is unable or unavailable to do so, including a Good Samaritan provision.