In November 2007, Obama came out against a bill that would have reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872. The current statute, signed into law by Ulysses Grant, allows mining companies to pay a nominal fee, as little as $2.50 an acre, to mine for hardrock minerals like gold, silver, and copper without paying royalties. Yearly profits for mining hardrock on public lands is estimated to be in excess of $1 billion a year according to Earthworks, a group that monitors the industry. Not surprisingly, the industry spends freely when it comes to lobbying: an estimated $60 million between 1998-2004 according to The Center on Public Integrity.
The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 would have finally overhauled the law and allowed American taxpayers to reap part of the royalties (4 percent of gross revenue on existing mining operations and 8 percent on new ones). The bill provided a revenue source to cleanup abandoned hardrock mines, which is likely to cost taxpayers over $50 million, and addressed health and safety concerns in the 11 affected western states.
Later it came to light that one of Obama’s key advisors in Nevada is a Nevada-based lobbyist in the employ of various mining companies (CBS News “Obama’s Position On Mining Law Questioned. Democrat Shares Position with Mining Executives Who Employ Lobbyist Advising Him,” November 14, 2007).