Senator Barack Obama
Obama for America
PO Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680
To Senator Obama:
Congratulations on your outstanding presidential campaign, which seems to be picking up speed as we head into Super Tuesday on Tuesday, February 5. As you know, Colorado Democrats will be participating in caucuses on that day and in that spirit, I’d like to draw attention to a topic particularly important to us in Gunnison County—the regulation of the mining industry.
As you may or may not be aware, in 2004, 155 acres on top of Mt. Emmons, located less than a mile from the Town of Crested Butte, Colorado, was transferred from the Bureau of Land Management to the Phelps Dodge Corporation for approximately $875, or $5 per acre. The price was based on costs established more than 130 years ago, under the General Mining Law of 1872. Since then, the property has been transferred to Wyoming-based U.S. Energy Corp., which is pursuing plans to open a molybdenum mine in our town’s watershed.
The plan is so contrary to our resort community’s values that a broad coalition of citizens have risen up to protest not only U.S. Energy’s specific mining plans but the very law that allowed this disastrous string of events to begin—the 1872 Mining Law.
Officials from Crested Butte testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Resources last week during a committee oversight hearing on mining law reform. During his testimony, Crested Butte mayor Alan Bernholtz discussed how the reform would empower our town and local communities across the nation in their efforts to protect their resources, like local watersheds. Specifically, the Town wants Congress to give federal agencies the ability to deny and approve mining applications case-by-case based on suitability and public input.
On November 8, 2007, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on a press call in which you stated that you did not support H.R. 2262, the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 that passed the U.S. House of Representatives on November 1, 2007.
The bill, which was co-sponsored by Representative John Salazar (D-Colo.), would allow local authorities to protect their communities from the historically devastating impacts of mining. Specifically, the bill would require mining companies to pay royalties to the government and set new environmental requirements for the hardrock mining industry.
According to the Review-Journal’s article, you would work to find change that would "provide greater business security for the mining industry and the communities that depend on it." Specifically, the newspaper said you stated that legislation should include "fair" compensation for the use of federal lands and ensure that abandoned mine sites get cleaned up.
According to your campaign website, you oppose H.R. 2262’s provisions to impose royalties of 4 percent of gross revenue on existing hard-rock mining operations, and royalties of 8 percent of gross revenue on new mining operations.
While the percentages will be up for discussion, it’s imperative that any Senate bill revise rules for the patenting or sale of public lands, create a royalty system from any minerals taken from public lands and strengthen environmental protections for disturbed lands. I urge you to carefully reconsider your stance.
As a member of Congress, you may have the opportunity to vote on a bill that will revise the antiquated mining law and protect communities like Crested Butte. While I understand that compromise will be the name of the game, I ask for your leadership to ensure that the Mining Law of 1872 is updated to reflect our 2008 values.
In your campaign, you’ve championed change. I can assure you that change is needed as badly within our outdated mining laws as elsewhere in our government.
I will be looking for your vote on this issue, as I suspect you may be looking for mine this November.
Thank you for your time,
Senator Barack Obama