The General Mining Law of 1872 promotes the development of western lands. The law waives royalties on extracted minerals and sells public land at between $2.50 and $5.00 per acre to mining corporations. This unfettered giveaway has left behind more than half a million abandoned hardrock mines that will cost taxpayers a conservatively-estimated $32 billion to clean up.
- End the giveaway of public lands.
- Require a minimal 8% royalty on net smelter return.
- Require the hard rock mining industry to comply with basic environmental reclamation standards.
- Create a fund to reclaim and restore land and water resources harmed by past mineral activities.
- Requiring the mining industry to pay for the cleanup of its own mess.
- Allow the public to retain ownership over the land leased to mining companies and protect it from unreasonable degradation.
Read WORC factsheet.
More information is available from EARTHWORKS.
Bush Administration Removes Limits on Toxic Mining Waste on Public Lands
On October, 2003 a legal opinion issued by the Bush Administration allowed unlimited toxic waste dumping by companies that mine for gold, silver and other precious metals on public lands owned by U.S. taxpayers. The decision, which was approved by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, attempts to nullify a limit on mine dumps set in federal mining law.
For each 20-acre mining claim, the law allows 5 additional "mill site" acres for activities secondary to mining. When the law was passed in 1872, a mill site provided room for equipment to process newly-extracted ore, but modern mining techniques and pollution are dramatically different and more dangerous now.
Chemical leach technology, widespread since the 1970s, uses poisons like cyanide to extract trace amounts of metal from tons of earth. Mill sites are now used for dumping these giant piles of contaminated waste rock and tailings.
The new opinion directly contradicts an opinion issued in 1997 by Clinton Administration. Mining companies, seeking more public land for dumping toxic waste rock, have succeeded in pressuring the Bush Administration into reversing that interpretation of the law.
News release, Unlimited Toxic Waste Dumps Allowed on Public Land
Bonding: Bush Administration Consults With Industry Over Federal Bonding Standards
At the request of industry, then-Secretary of Interior Gale Norton convened a Task Force to examine proposals to change federal financial assurance rules. The hard rock mining, coal mining and oil and gas industries claim that they are unable to get surety bonds, and that federal rules need to be weakened in response to this "crisis."
- WORC's comments to the Bonding Task Force
- 50 Groups criticize the Bonding Task Force for failing to meet with public interest groups
- WORC's news release on the Bonding Task Force's one-sided, industry-biased process
Hard Rock Mining and International Trade
Hard rock mining firms are among the international corporations pushing for free trade agreements that undercut the ability of local, state and national governments to protect the interests of their citizens.
- Reclaiming Democracy: Why mining activists should care about Fast Track & Free Trade.