Research & Commentary: Mining Regulation

Published June 20, 2012

Mining is the process of extracting raw minerals from the earth to be converted into valuable materials used by society. We rely heavily on mining to support our standard of living, because every modern product uses basic minerals obtained through mining. For example, a car consists of 15 separate minerals, and a telephone contains about 42 different minerals. As human activity has progressed, so has our demand for minerals.

Despite mining’s irreplaceable contribution to modern society and its direct relationship with rising economic activity, mineral production is a popular target of environmental activists, who proclaim mining is under-regulated and therefore poses a danger to the environment and human health.

Although all forms of energy and mineral production involve some risk, the environmental hazards from mining are negligible and are falling. Mining operations by themselves are responsible for very little air pollution and are fully regulated with pollution control devices to suppress dust from haul roads and minimize emissions, particularly of sulfur dioxide (SO2), from mineral smelting.

New techniques further protect ground and surface water from potentially harmful mine drainage, including the use of microorganisms to attack specific contaminants, returning the environment to its original condition.

In addition, no mining activity can take place without a permit. This requires submitting numerous surveys of baseline data of pre-mine environmental conditions, assessments of surface and groundwater hydrology, and detailed mine reclamation plans based on the provisions of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMRCA) and other state programs. Approvals can take up to several years.

Thousands of American families live in communities supported by mining, and millions more benefit from the increased standard of living made possible by lower energy prices and less-expensive products. Adding unnecessary regulatory obstacles creates uncertainty that hurts businesses and consumers without appreciable environmental benefits in return.

The following documents provide additional information about the safety and benefits of mining.

Mining & Air Quality
The National Mining Association details EPA findings showing air pollutants have decreased as use of coal-fired plants has increased and explains the likely reasons why.

Responsible Mining—All Over the World
Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, articulates the vital and often overlooked role mining plays in our lives. He also discusses how the failure to acknowledge mining’s importance can lead to harmful unintended consequences for the world’s poor. 

Mining and Our Environment
A report by the National Mining Association tells the story of the U.S. mining industry, including its economic, social, and environmental contributions. The report details many unfamiliar aspects of mining, including the reclamation process and innovative techniques for protecting the environment. 

How Is Mining Regulated? Permitting
Alpha Natural Resources outlines the mining permit application process and tells how its stringency leaves little to no room for environmental or miner neglect. 

Mining Companies Receive Environmental Awards
James Hoare reports for The Heartland Institute about mining companies that have voluntarily gone above and beyond the rigorous compliance measures of the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act to earn awards for environmentalism. The report shows past images of harsh manual labor and environmental destruction no longer hold true. 

Wisconsin GOP Attempts to Ram Through Special Interest Mining Bill
In reporting on opposition to a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin over alleged concerns about water supplies and land reclamation, this Center for Media and Democracy article shows activists’ willingness to ignore empirical evidence and deny economic rewards to the community.

Crandall Canyon Had Very Good Safety Record
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor reports on media distortion of mining accidents taken advantage of by anti-mining advocates to convince the public of a lack of government intervention. The August 6, 2007 coal mine collapse at Crandall Canyon illustrates this point, Taylor writes, as the media reported inaccurate safety records for Murray Energy, making the mining company appear callous to miner safety.

For further information on this subject, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

Nothing in this message is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. If you have any questions about this issue or the Heartland Web site, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.