1997 Scorecard Vote
Hard rock mining companies can take advantage of subsidies under two federal laws when mining on federal public lands. First, companies can mine hard rock minerals, such as gold, silver, platinum, and copper for free because the federal government does not charge royalties for minerals extracted from public lands under the 1872 Mining Law. In addition, the 1872 Mining Law allows companies to buy ("patent") public land for as little as $2.50 per acre. Second, a special rule under the federal Tax Code called the "percentage depletion allowance" permits mining companies to deduct from their income taxes a percentage of their taxable gross income, thus reducing the amount of federal taxes they must pay. Although the deduction is intended to reflect the reduction in the value of the land as minerals are extracted, it allows companies to deduct a fixed percentage of their gross income that is often far more than the actual loss of value.
These subsidies encourage mining operations that would otherwise be economically impracticable, and that often leave badly scarred landscapes and polluted rivers and lakes. Many mining sites are listed as hazardous waste sites under Superfund, with cleanup costs estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
During Senate consideration of S. 949, the Revenue Reconciliation Act, Senators Dale Bumpers (D-AR) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) offered an amendment to repeal the percentage depletion allowance for that part of a mining company's activity which occurs on public land and former public land that has been patented. The amendment would reduce the mining industry's subsidy by approximately $468 million over five years. Thus, while not repealing the 1872 Mining Law outright, the amendment would reduce a wasteful government subsidy and marginal mining operations on public lands.
On June 26, 1997, Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) raised a point of order to kill the amendment. Senator Gregg moved to overrule the point of order. The Gregg motion failed 36 - 63. Thus, Sen. Murkowski's maneuver was upheld and the Bumpers-Gregg amendment was killed. YES is the pro-environment vote.