"A tiny item in the Obama budget puts the administration on the environmental side of one of the longest-running questions in the West: What do the companies that mine gold, silver, copper and other hard-rock minerals owe the Treasury for the valuable materials they extract from public lands?
Since the passage of an 1872 mining law, the basic answer has been nothing. In 2009, efforts to assess a royalty on such minerals died in the Senate. Representative Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia, had sponsored a measure seeking a 4 percent royalty for existing mines and 8 percent for new ones; and Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, countered by suggesting a royalty only on new mines, at a level to be set at the interior secretary’s discretion.
The new Obama budget calls for a 5 percent royalty on the minerals extracted in new projects on public lands like those managed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. The amount of revenue projected in the first few years from this royalty is minuscule (in terms of the federal budget), about $7 million or less a year. But the principle of subjecting international mining giants like the Newmont Mining Corporation and the Barrick Gold Corporation to the same kind of royalty regimen that is a way of life for oil, gas and coal companies is significant, no matter the size of the initial revenue."