1872 Mining Law Gets the Boot

A Missouri stream overrun with hydroxide precipitate, one of the many adverse environmental effects from coal mining.© D. Hardesty, USGS Columbia Environmental Research Center

Environmentalists are overjoyed at news that the House Natural Resources Committee last week approved legislation rewriting the antiquated General Mining Law of 1872. That legislation, originally signed by President Ulysses S. Grant, was designed to promote the development and settlement of publicly owned lands on the American frontier. The old law promoted development by allowing mining interests to take valuable hard rock minerals—such as gold, silver and uranium—from public lands without royalty payment to taxpayers and without any consideration of environmental impact. Other mining industries that extract coal, oil or natural gas must meet stringent environmental standards while reimbursing federal coffers for the privilege. The 1872 law also allowed mining companies to buy valuable mineral-bearing public lands for no more than $5 per acre, which may have seemed fair in 1872 but is grossly under-priced by today’s standards.

"The [new] bill
would bring the 19th century mining law into the 21st century," Stephen D"Esposito, president of the nonprofit group Earthworks, told reporters last week. "If the full House passes the bill as expected, we"ll be halfway towards achieving badly needed reforms that work for western communities, taxpayers, the environment and responsible mining companies."

Political insiders expect the full House to pass the new bill—which would impose royalties of four percent of gross revenue on existing hard rock mining operations, and royalties of eight percent of gross revenue on new mining operations—when it comes up for a floor vote in a few weeks.

Sources: Earth Work Sanction; lasvegasnow.com