Democrats call for probe into foreign mining on public lands

House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). (Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr.)

House Natural Resources ranking member Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and five other Democrats are asking the Government Accountability Office to probe how much is known about foreign investment in mining on federally managed lands.

The group also wants to know how closely the federal government tracks exports of minerals extracted from public lands and whether mining companies are complying with US environmental and human rights standards.

“The House Natural Resources Committee has received information that US mineral supply chains lack the necessary oversight and regulation to ensure that US companies are in compliance with US laws,” Grijalva wrote in a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

“Additionally, there is evidence that US companies seeking mineral leases on federal lands may be subsidiaries of foreign companies, including adversarial countries, accused of serious human rights and environmental violations.”

According to the group, the Government Accountability Office has previously reported that there are over 700 operations authorized to mine hard rock minerals on federal lands, but the amount of mineral production is unknown because federal agencies do not collect data on the amount and value of hard rock minerals extracted from federal lands.

Unlike oil and gas or coal mining, hard rock mining companies do not pay any royalties for the publicly owned minerals they extract.

Last week, Democrats and Republicans joined forces to block a bill by Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei to address a court ruling adopting a stricter interpretation of the 150-year-old General Mining Law.

The so-called “Mining Regulatory Clarity Act” would make it clear that mining companies can store waste on land that doesn’t have economically recoverable minerals.