US gov’t mulls 50-year mining ban in New Mexico

Reference image of Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument in New Mexico. (Stock photo by eickys.)

The US government is proposing to ban mining and oil drilling in northern New Mexico for up to 50 years, as part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to protect Native American lands and promote responsible mining in public grounds.

According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), the proposal would ban new mining claims, as well as oil and gas development across more than 4,200 acres within the Placitas area in Sandoval County.

“We’re responding to call from Tribes, elected leaders, and community members who want to see these public lands protected,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in the statement. “We look forward to hearing more from the public to inform decisions about how activities, like gravel mining, may impact these lands, including the important cultural and natural resources.”

The announcement marks the beginning of a 90-day public comment period to gather input on the proposal.

Policymakers and local communities have long advocated for protection of the area, considered ancestral and sacred to Native Americans.

The proposed ban will affect four separate tracts, including the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, located northeast of Albuquerque. 

The area contains “rich archaeological resources that span thousands of years of human history”, according to a document from the Bureau of Land Management. It is also popular for hiking, camping and hunting. 

A report issued by the Congressional Budget Office in August concluded the area impacted by the potential ban is rich in sand and gravel, but doesn’t have enough sources of other minerals worth developing into mines.

That report also forecast the land withdrawal would result in a decrease of $2 million in federal revenue. 

There are, however, numerous mines and prospects in Sandoval county, with the area recording exploitable or exploited minerals such as graphite, gold, silver, uranium, lead, and copper.

Last week, the DOI announced it planned to change a 151-year-old law governing mining for copper, gold and other minerals on public lands. The modifications would include making companies for the first time pay royalties on what they extract.

The DOI-led committee also recommended the creation of a mine leasing system and coordination of permitting efforts among a range of federal agencies.