U.S. Senate and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman has introduced S. 796, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009, which will be reviewed this summer after the committee works on a bipartisan energy bill.

The bill eliminates patenting of federal lands, imposes a federal minerals royalty, establishes a Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund, and requires a review of certain lands within three years to determine if they will be available for future mining.

Efforts to comprehensively reform the Mining Law have been ongoing literally for decades, but results have thus far been elusive. There is renewed interest on the part of many in the industry and in the environmental community in trying to update this law, Bingaman, D-New Mexico, said in a statement.

The mining industry plays an important role in our part of the country: It fuels local economies. And it contributes to our national security, he added. At the same time, the industry has been criticized on both fiscal and environmental grounds. The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 will make responsible changes to this outmoded law.

The bill aims to enact a robust abandoned mine land program for hardrock mining sites. It is estimated that there are as many as 500,000 abandoned hardrock mine sites nationally, most located in the West.

Each operator of a hardrock mining on federal, state, tribal or private land would pay a reclamation fee of not less than 0.3%, and not more than 1%, of the value of the production of the hardrock minerals for deposit into the fund.

Production of all locatable minerals on public lands would be subject to a royalty to be determined by the U.S. Secretary of Interior through regulations of not less than 2% and not more than 5% of production value, not including reasonable transportation, beneficiation, and processing costs. The royalty could also vary based on the particular mineral being mined.

Unlike previously enacted House bills, Bingaman's Senate legislation would not try to collect the royalty from existing mines that are producing in commercial quantities on the date of enactment. The royalties would be deposited in the Hardrock Minerals Reclamation Fund.

The legislation also provides for reductions in royalties or all or part of a mining operation where the person conducting the mineral activities shows by clear and convincing evidence that without the reduction, production would not occur.

Permits would be required for all mineral activities on federal lands. Mining permits would be granted for 30 and as long as production occurs in commercial quantities.

The measure directs the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to jointly issue regulations to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation in administering mineral activities on National Forest System land. Meanwhile financial assurances or bonds covering the cost of water treatment on reclaimed mined land will not be released until the discharge has ceased for at least five years or the operator has met all applicable water quality standards for at least five years.

The mine operator may also be required to establish a trust fund or other long-term funding to provide financial guarantees for the long-term treatment of water or other long-term post-mining maintenance or monitoring requirements.

The National Mining Association said that it supports updating the General Mining Law as a means to provide for predictable legal and regulatory framework that will attract new capital and protect existing high-paying mining jobs and investments.

NMA Senior Vice President Carol Raulston told Mineweb, We will be going through the bill with our member companies next week and will have a more detailed position following those discussions.

Environmental NGO EARTHWORKS applauded Bingaman's bill, especially the abandoned mines reclamation fund. This money would provide jobs in places where it's needed most, rural communities too often the victim of mining's boom-bust cycle.

In addition to creating revenue streams to protect public health and western water from abandoned mine pollution, the bill also creates processes to identify resource conflicts on federal lands in the West and protect important national treasures from unnecessary and undue degradation due to mining, EARTHWORKS noted.