Tuesday, July 21, 2009


137 Years Later

"It’s hard to believe that the 1872 mining law is still with us. Signed by Ulysses S. Grant four years before the invention of the telephone, the law sets the rules for mining hardrock minerals like gold and copper. Useful in the days of westward expansion, it is a disaster now. It demands no royalties from the mining companies and provides minimal environmental protections.

Its legacy, if it can be called that, is a battered landscape of abandoned mines and poisoned streams.

Republican and Democratic presidents alike have urged Congress to reform the law. Yet it survives, thanks largely to Congressional inertia and friends in high places. At the moment, that friend is Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader who resists reform because mining is big business in his home state of Nevada.

Still there is hope for change. In 2007, the House passed a good bill that would require mining companies to pay royalties, just like oil and coal producers do. The money would help pay for cleanups of abandoned mines. The bill would also strengthen environmental safeguards and allow the secretary of the interior to block mines that pose a clear danger to the environment.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced a comparable bill in April. This is the first comprehensive reform bill the Senate has seen in years. But what really encourages those who seek a better law is the Obama administration’s ardent and public support.

Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, told Mr. Bingaman’s committee last week that he saw mining law reform as a “top-tier issue” that he hoped would not be buried under other Congressional priorities. And this week, using his emergency authority under another law, Mr. Salazar placed a temporary hold on any new mines on about one million acres surrounding the Grand Canyon. These are enormously encouraging gestures from a department that resisted reform during the Bush years.

It bears repeating that these reforms do no more than subject the mining industry to practices that oil and gas operators, coal miners and other intensive users of the public lands — including ski areas — have operated under without strain for decades. Our hope is that Mr. Bingaman’s leadership and Mr. Salazar’s enthusiasm for change will command the attention of Mr. Reid and, in time, force a vote on the Senate floor. One can live in the 19th century for only so long."

This New York Times editorial demonstrates the lack of understanding about the Mining Act of 1872 by the effete east and even the less aware segments of the rest of the country. First of all, as the masthead of the California Mining Journal says, "Without mining, there is no civilization". The development of mining and metallurgy is what made the leap from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age possible. Without the products of mining we would even now be living in that Stone Age. In the 19th century, common sense dictated that the mineral resources of the country be developed. This logic is still legitimate. The act itself allows a company or individual to stake public lands and perform assessment work in the development of mineral exploration and extraction at no cost to the government or taxpayers. When the prescribed amount of assessment is done, the claim becomes the property of the stake holder, provided exploitable mineral resources are found. No royalties are involved. The reality is that the Mining Act of 1872 is one of the very few ways that an individual can, with a minimum investment and a lot of hard work, make something out of nothing. Naturally, the east coast, big government folks can't stand that. The NYT not only doesn't understand the situation, they feel compelled to lie about it as well. Land claimed under the Mining Act is subject to the same environmental regulations as any other property. And the comment that "intensive users . . . have operated under without strain for decades" would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic. And the lament that a law passed before the invention of the telephone should now be considered antiquated reflects poorly on much of the US code. The NYT just doesn't know what it's talking about.

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