We must end--once and for all--the grand subsidy that is the 1872 Mining Law. Place stricter controls on mining companies and their access to federal public lands.
Set up an international protocol of mining, one that is not focused on the workers, but that allows for a standardized level of protection for the land and a respect for indigenous cultures, meaning a protected zone around such communities.
Mining has for generations held sway in the West. From those seeking gold in the high Sierras, to mining for borax in the steaming deserts, it has been part of the development of the West.
The Chaffee law of 1866 and the placer law of 1870 were combined into the General Mining Act of 1872. The mining law of 1866 had given discoverers rights to stake mining claims to extract gold, silver, cinnabar (the principal ore of mercury) and copper. When Congress passed the General Mining Act of 1872, the wording was changed to "or other valuable deposits," giving greater scope to the law. The 1872 law was codified as 30 U.S.C. §§ 22-42
The Act of 1872 also set the price for land assumed under the mining act:
It set the price of the land claim to range $2.50 to $5.00 per acre. This price set by law has remained the same since 1872!
Sadly, that legacy continues with mining companies enjoying some of the parhelia of their early success and power. The 1872 Mining Law was put in place in part to give incentive for people to move west. You could stake a claim anywhere and the cost was next to nothing, no royalties to be paid. Today, the mining lords are enjoying gold at more than $1500 per ounce; coal continues to be mined at record levels worldwide. New mines are opening for uranium; important Native American sites are being stampeded in this new use for profit.
In New Mexico, the grasslands of Otero Mesa were put in the sights of a Cameroon based company, with direct ties to ruling families. The company, with no proven record of success, did test bores on Wind Mountain on the southern border of the mesa. Tests results unknown at this time, the goal was to find so-called rare-earth minerals.
Across the west, people are discovering stakes on public lands that abut their homes, or ranches, the telltale sign that someone or company has staked a claim.
Today, the results of mining can be seen on the lands and our waterways from high levels of contamination, to the large open-pits that have consumed landscapes, creating an ablation of mountain sides.
Cyanide leaching has been a popular method of unearthing gold in Montana; the leaking of cyanide has killed fish and contaminated fresh water sources. Many mines have been left abandoned across the West as companies went bankrupt, with taxpayers left to clean up the mess.
Worldwide there appears to be a mining boom, as China and India having an exploding middle-class. Mines are opening across Mongolia, in Africa and naturally the interest on Afghanistan has, in part, been a reflection of the immense mining potential of that nation.
With the prices at or near record levels for copper, silver, gold and other minerals, mining companies are moving at an aggressive pace. Wildlife, migratory birds and wild lands need a voice before these companies overrun our wild inheritance.
Write Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, tell him it’s time to place a vote on the 1872 Mining Law. He has tremendous weight on this issue, with Nevada being a major mining state.
Also, write your Senators and ask them to support efforts to reform the 1872 Mining Law.
Write UN Secretary Ban Ki- Moon asking for an International protocol on mining for the land and indigenous cultures.