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Sen. Murkowski Comments on GAO Hardrock Mining Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, issued the following statement today in response to press accounts about a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on hardrock and other mineral production from federal land. Murkowski also questioned how reporters received the report before it was made available to the congressional committee of jurisdiction or it being made available on the agency’s website.

“There’s been agreement for a long time that the 1872 Mining Law should be updated to include a royalty, reduce permitting delays, and address other priorities,” Murkowski said. “When we talk about instituting a royalty it’s important to remember that mining is a globally competitive sector. We have to be careful not to ship our own industry – and the jobs that accompany it – overseas.”

The United States already faces a significant challenge in attracting investment in nonferrous mineral exploration and development because of its extended and expensive permitting system. According to the Metals Economics Group, the United States attracted 20 percent of the worldwide exploration investment dollars in 1993. Today, that has eroded to just 8 percent.

“The decline we’ve seen in domestic minerals exploration is largely due to our failure to process permits in a timely fashion. America is tied with Papua New Guinea for dead last in the amount of time it takes to get a ‘yes-or-no’ answer on a permit application.

“While a federal royalty may be part of modernizing the mining law, we have to ensure that miners can actually obtain the necessary leases and permits in the first place. We need to consider addressing royalties, permitting, and other issues like geological surveys and abandoned mine cleanup, in concert with one another. If done effectively, such an effort could result in more efficient government, a greater return to taxpayers, strengthened resource security, and provide environmental benefits.”

Murkowski also noted concerns about the fact that media coverage of the GAO report were published prior to members of Congress receiving a copy of the report or it being made available on the agency’s website.

According to its own website, “The U.S. Government Accountability Office is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress.” The agency’s own mission statement asserts, in part, that it will “provide Congress with timely information that is objective, fact-based, nonpartisan, nonideological, fair, and balanced.”

“Whether GAO intended it or not, leaking the report to reporters before lawmakers gives the distinct impression that the GAO is promoting its own agenda.” Murkowski said. 

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